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There’s a good chance the Chinese will retaliate for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou by targeting American businesses in China, former assistant U.S. trade representative Jeff Moon told CNBC on Thursday.

Meng was arrested on Saturday in Canada and is facing extradition to the United States reportedly for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

In an interview with “Power Lunch,” Moon said that while China has responded to the escalating U.S. tariffs in somewhat “measured ways,” the arrest is fairly aggressive and may tip China into being more forceful in its retaliation.

“Every American firm that does business in China is vulnerable, because Chinese laws are extremely vague. There is no way to get official clarification. So people, in order to do business, have to work in that murky regulatory environment,” said Moon, who served as assistant U.S. trade representative to China under President Barack Obama.

“The Chinese can crack down quite easily because those laws are vague and they can interpret them however they want,” he added.

Meng’s detention came on the same day that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping struck a 90-day truce on implementing additional tariffs. The arrest wasn’t announced until Wednesday.

Huawei is being investigated for using HSBC to allegedly make illegal transactions involving Iran, Reuters reported on Thursday. The Shenzhen-based technology company is the world’s second-largest seller of phones behind Samsung. Meng is the founder’s daughter.

Moon thinks U.S. officials should talk to the Canadian government about not extraditing Meng. If the extradition happens, there is a “high possibility” China will retaliate in a similar fashion.

If so, “things will start getting out of control, and reaching an agreement that will settle the trade dispute will be much harder.”

The escalating trade war has fueled fear among investors, and Meng’s arrest added to that concern. U.S. equities fell sharply on Thursday, a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged nearly 800 points.

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World

Dow falls 103 points, Nasdaq snaps 8-day winning streak on weak economic data

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The data releases come a day after the Federal Reserve released the minutes from its January meeting. The minutes highlighted downside risks to the U.S. economy, including “a rapid waning of fiscal policy stimulus, or a further tightening of financial market conditions.”

However, the Fed also hinted it may end its balance-sheet normalization process faster than expected. This would be positive for equity investors, as many see the reduction of the balance sheet as a form of tighter monetary policy.

Equities closed slightly higher on Wednesday, adding to the recent sharp gains in stocks. The S&P 500 is up more than 10 percent this year as the Fed signaled patience in future rate hikes and amid perceived progress in U.S.-China trade talks.

“Risk markets continue to probe higher with the SPX index … effectively completing the right hand side of the ‘V,'” wrote Michael Shaoul, chairman and CEO of Marketfield Asset Management. “With earnings season winding down, the FOMC minutes now released and some sort of a trade deal (or benign extension past March 1st) priced into the market further progress may be hard to squeeze out of the headline index.”

Officials from China and the U.S. met again in Washington on Thursday. Reports early Thursday morning said Washington and Beijing have begun drawing up memorandums of understanding over trade.

The U.S. and China are trying to resolve their differences over trade ahead of a March 1 deadline. However, speculation has risen that there may be an extension to that target, after President Donald Trump said it was not a “magical date.”

“Tariff news outweighs everything. There was no major news on trade, so the market is trading on what’s out there,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “What’s out there today, there’s not that much excitement to it.”

Nike shares fell 1 percent after star Duke University basketball player Zion Williamson broke his shoe at the start of a highly anticipated game. The break led to Williamson hurting his knee.

—CNBC’s
Ryan Browne
contributed to this report.

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US-China trade war cited as headwind

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Danish shipping group Moller-Maersk reported fourth-quarter earnings in line with expectations on Thursday, but warned a long-running trade conflict between the world’s two largest economies could hamper growth in 2019.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) came in at $1.12 billion for the final three months of 2018, above the $1.07 billion forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.

Shares of the company slipped more than 9 percent after results.

The company said it expects EBITDA as calculated under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for this year of around $5 billion.

“Although we had a challenging start to 2018, looking at our financial performance, we increased earnings despite significantly higher bunker fuel prices and lower than expected container volume growth in the second half of 2018,” Soren Skou, CEO of Moller-Maersk, said in a statement on Thursday.

“However, profitability needs to improve,” he added.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg meets UK culture secretary to discuss regulation

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Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks to participants during the Viva Technologie show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 24, 2018 in Paris, France.

Chesnot | Getty Images

Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks to participants during the Viva Technologie show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 24, 2018 in Paris, France.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is meeting with a British official Thursday to discuss internet regulation and fake news.

Zuckerberg will speak with U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright at the firm’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, about a U.K. government plan to regulate tech companies over how they tackle harmful content online.

Another topic high on the agenda will be the spread of disinformation on the web, a government spokesperson said, an issue the social network has faced heightened scrutiny over globally.

“I look forward to meeting Mr. Zuckerberg to discuss what more Facebook can do to help keep people safe on their platforms, as we prepare a new regulatory framework that will reinforce Facebook’s and other tech firms’ responsibility to keep us safe,” Wright said in a statement Thursday.

Britain’s Home Office and the culture department are due to release a white paper where they will lay out their strategy to counter issues like cyberbullying and child abuse content online. Reports have said the report could include a proposed regulator similar to Ofcom, the media watchdog, to monitor social media.

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