Ren Zhengfei's Northern European Media Roundtable, Part 1

Ren Zhengfei, Huawei CEO, welcomed media from northern Europe to a roundtable and invited them to ask whatever they wished, however challenging the question. GEORGIA TODAY will be publishing those questions and answers in the present and following issues of GEORGIA TODAY newspaper.

Huawei is at the forefront of two big international struggles. One is the trade conflict between China and the US which also spills over into Europe. The other has to do with the allegations that Huawei can be a tool for espionage. What is your straight answer on Huawei's position?

First, I want to make it clear that the conflict between China and the US has nothing to do with Huawei. Huawei has virtually no business presence in the US, so whatever the result of the China-US trade talk ends up being, it won't have an impact on us.

Second, though the US has put us on its Entity List, we have now used our own chips in the vast majority of our products. In the past, we limited the use of our own chips and used more chips from the US. We did this so that we could keep good ties with US companies, which have maintained strong relationships with us over the past three decades. Why did we stop using their chips all of a sudden? When the US suspends our supply, we have to start using our own chips on a larger scale. We have been preparing this for years. It didn't happen all of a sudden. The US government thinks cutting supply to Huawei will give them a leg up in its trade war with China, but really, it fails to hit its target. The sales of its own companies have been weakened instead.

Third, in terms of cyber security, Huawei has been faced with accusations from the US. But as you know, these accusations are groundless. Our sound track record has proven that Huawei is a reliable company. Over the past 30 years, we have served three billion people in more than 170 countries and regions. Even today, there hasn't been a single incident of data theft. An article published by the Lithuanian newspaper Lrytas UAB implied that the leaked information of the African Union was allegedly related to Huawei. The Lithuanian court has obliged Lrytas UAB to publish a statement to retract its false statements and apologize to Huawei. Our 30 years of sound track record is a testimony to people in Northern Europe that we are credible.

What will things be like in the next 30 years?

Mr. Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, made a statement at the Munich Security Conference that China has no law requiring companies to install backdoors. Premier Li Keqiang reiterated this point at a press conference following a recent session of the National People's Congress. So, from simply a policy perspective, we would never install backdoors in our equipment.

And from the perspective of our best interests, the backlash of a wrongdoing like this would spread around world, and our business credibility earned through 30 years of hard work would be damaged. With all our employees running away, I would need to repay tens of billions in bank loans for the company. So I have no motivation to do something like this. I can promise people in Northern Europe that we respect their digital sovereignty and would never do anything that would violate it.

Fourth, let me give a quick example. When a truck manufacturer sells a truck, the driver decides what the truck will carry, not the truck manufacturer. So, when our telecom equipment is sold to a carrier, it is the carrier and the local government that control and govern the data, we don't. So it is impossible for us to steal anything. We are a firm supporter of digital sovereignty.

That's why the US' accusations are groundless and they haven't presented any solid evidence to support them. These are purely speculative and not the truth.

Norway is an ally of the US and a member of NATO. It's under pressure from the US, and just recently, Telia, who is its second biggest carrier, decided that they would use Ericsson for their 5G technology. Do you think that decision was made based on network speed and quality or did political factors come into play?

We respect whatever decisions our customers make, which is basically the same as buying clothes at the mall. Everyone has different tastes, so our customers are going to buy whatever they want. There are countless carriers around the world, and it's impossible to make every single one of them like us. We were not able do this in the past, and it is even less likely for us to do so given the current situation we find ourselves in.

Are you excluding the possibility that the political climate influenced Telia's decision?

I'm not a decision-maker at Telia, so I could not tell you if their decision was politically influenced or not. As of now, we have signed 60 contracts for 5G and have shipped 400,000 5G base stations. And these numbers are still going up. Decisions made by one or two customers do not represent how the majority of our customers feel about Huawei.

You mentioned shortly that you have been able to become self-reliant. Where do you feel you have been able to do it well and where do you feel the difficulties of being on the Entity List?

To be frank, we have not seen a substantial impact from the US attack on our communications domain. The attack is primarily against 5G and core networks. I can tell you that our revenue from the communications domain, including 5G and core networks, will not decline this year; in fact, it is estimated to grow by 0.1%. We will see growth with our communications domain, especially with 5G. There is little impact in this domain.

Our consumer business however will be affected. If the US does not allow us to participate in the Google ecosystem, we will see it play out in overseas markets.

We also find ourselves slightly behind US companies in intelligent computing and need to double our efforts to catch up.

What's your view on what's happening in the industry as this divide seems to grow? If it continues, do you think you will be able to build another ecosystem besides Google?

We have a good working relationship with Google. Even if we develop our own ecosystem, that ecosystem will not be used to compete with them. I think if the world has ecosystems by Apple, Google, as well as Huawei, it will help advance our societies. We have never considered anyone as an adversary.

You've said very clearly that if Beijing ever asked Huawei to spy on their behalf, you would close this company. How would you in practice close Huawei and make sure that it was not a state takeover?

The Chinese government has never asked Huawei to spy on their behalf. In the past, they didn't even know networks could have backdoors. Since the US started making baseless accusations against Huawei, the Chinese government started to take cyber security seriously. It has taken some time for China to come to this level of awareness.

We have been subject to the strictest evaluations in the UK, performed by world-class technical experts. According to their findings, Huawei has no malicious cyber security issues, but the quality of our software has room for improvement. The UK has placed trust in Huawei, and our business has developed very quickly there over the past decade. We also place huge trust in the UK and have established our own cyber security evaluation center there.

Even as powerful as you are, can you say no to Beijing, say no to the Chinese President and leadership?

At the Munich Security Conference, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, made it very clear that China has no law requiring companies to install backdoors in their equipment. During a press conference held after a recent session of the National People's Congress, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated this point. These are all directives from top government officials.

Read more from Ren Zhengfei in the next issue of GEORGIA TODAY.

31 October 2019 20:18