Ren Zhengfei, Founder and CEO of besieged telecoms vendor Huawei, chose sympathetic Chinese media for his latest publicity initiative.
He invited the People’s Daily, CCTV and Xinhua News Agency, which are directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, as well as a bunch of other media not known for challenging the party line, for a bit of a chat at Huawei towers in Shenzhen. Conspicuously absent was the relatively neutral and objective South China Morning Post.
While the choice of media ensured a sympathetic line of questioning, Ren (pictured, photo taken from report) still served up some interesting answers. The current line from Huawei, in response to all the aggro it’s having to deal with from the US, seems to be to be as friendly as possible towards US companies, while at the same time demonising US politicians.
“What the US will do is out of our control,” said Ren. “I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the US companies that we work with. Over these 30 years, they have helped us to grow into what we are today. They have made many contributions to us. As you know, most of the companies that provide consulting services to Huawei are based in the US, including dozens of companies like IBM and Accenture.
“Second, we also have been receiving support from a large number of US component and part manufacturers over all these years. In the face of the recent crisis, I can feel these companies’ sense of justice and sympathy towards us.
“The US is a country ruled by law. US companies must abide by the laws, and so must the real economy. So you guys from the media should not always blame US companies. Instead, you should speak for them. The blame should rest with some US politicians.
“US politicians might have underestimated our strengths. I don’t want to say too much about this, because Ms. He Tingbo, President of HiSilicon, made all these issues very clear in her letter to employees. And all mainstream newspapers inside and outside of China have reported on this letter.”
Everything Ren said was accurate, but it’s intriguing that he made such a point of exonerating US companies from complicity in this whole affair. Huawei is, of course, a fully globalised company and relies heavily on good relationships with companies everywhere, so it makes sense to protect those relationships.
But looking under the surface of those comments two things spring to mind. Firstly it’s tactically sound to try to drive as much of a wedge as possible between the US private and public sectors. Presumably US companies like Google aren’t happy at being forced to stop doing business with one of the world’s largest technology companies and will be pressuring the US government to wind its neck in behind the scenes. They could yet be vital allies in Huawei’s bid to resolve this situation.
Secondly Ren seems to have scored a bit of an own-goal by conceding how powerless companies are to resist the will of politicians in their home countries. Since the central accusation levelled at Huawei by the US is that it is compelled to assist the Chinese state in espionage activities when asked, a call for private sector defiance may have been more cunning.
There was more talk of component autonomy but the Arm situation, which could scupper many of those plans, wasn’t directly addressed. Apparently Huawei was nearly sold to a US company in 2000 but it fell through at the last minute and they decided against trying to sell it to anyone else. Ren said Huawei has been preparing to ‘square off against the US’ ever since. The core message is that Huawei is fully prepared for this situation and will handle it just fine, but the Android situation was also conveniently avoided.
In response to a question about how long this current situation will last Ren replied “You are asking the wrong person; you should ask President Trump this question. I think there are two sides to this. Of course, we will be affected, but it will also inspire China to develop its electronics industry in a systematic and pragmatic manner.”
Hilariously the piece concludes with the statement “Huawei contributed to this story,” implying some degree of editorial veto. Nonetheless it’s worth reading the whole thing for the considerable insight it offers into the thinking behind the company. Huawei seems to have used this benign media gathering as an opportunity to put pressure on US politicians, or at least encourage US companies to do so. While this is a sound tactic there is currently little evidence of any progress being made in the geopolitical spat that Huawei has found itself in the middle of.