PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images
show image

Oscar Williams

News editor

Huawei: “The US is undertaking a coordinated geopolitical campaign against us”

One of Huawei’s most senior executives has hit back after the US warned European governments against using the Chinese tech giant’s telecoms equipment.

Speaking in Hungary earlier this week, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said that countries which use the firm’s technology make “it more difficult for [America] to partner alongside them”.

“What’s imperative is that we share with [governments] the things we know about the risks that Huawei’s presence in their networks presents,” he told reporters. “Actual risks to their own people, to the loss of privacy protections for their own people, the risk that China will use this data in a way that is not in the best interest of Hungary.”

But in a wide-ranging press conference on Wednesday, Eric Xu – one of Huawei’s three rotating chairmen – questioned the motives behind Pompeo’s intervention. “I think Mr Pompeo’s remarks are yet another indication that the US government is undertaking a well-coordinated, geopolitical campaign against Huawei,” he told journalists at the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen. “We have been wondering, and I think many other people may have been asking this question, is the recent fixation on Huawei truly about cyber security or could there be other motivations?”

Last year, the US government privately warned members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance not to use Huawei equipment in 5G telecoms infrastructure. It is concerned about Chinese laws that mandate domestic companies to assist with intelligence operations, although Huawei has indicated it would resist requests to do so.

The US also issued two indictments against the company last month. The first accuses the firm’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, of violating US sanctions against Iran. She now faces extradition to the US. The second accuses the company of stealing intellectual property from T-Mobile. Huawei said at the time that Wanzhou was innocent and that the dispute with T-Mobile had been settled two years ago.

“Some people argue that [America] is trying to find leverage for US-China trade negotiations,” said Xu. “Some other people argue that if Huawei equipment was used in those countries, US agencies would find it harder to get access to the information of those people or find it harder to intercept their mobile communications.”

“I believe in the wisdom of the seven billion people in the world; I think they clearly can see these different types of possibilities,” he added.

In recent months, Australia and New Zealand have both stopped telecoms networks from buying 5G equipment from Huawei. Xu sought to play down the impact of such moves. “Huawei’s 4G equipment is not deployed in all the countries in the world and we certainly do not expect our 5G equipment to be chosen by all customers in all countries,” he said. “Rather we are focused on providing good services to those countries, to those telecom operators, that choose Huawei.”

“To give you one example, China Mobile Guangzhou did not [procure] Huawei equipment even though Guangzhou is so close to our headquarters, so I think this is quite normal,” he added. “The market size of Australia is even smaller than the city of Guangzhou. Then the market size of New Zealand is even smaller than the small city of Yiyang, which is my home town.”

Over the weekend, Politico reported that US president Donald Trump was considering issuing an executive order in the coming weeks that would ban 5G equipment made by Huawei and fellow Chinese firm ZTE. Quizzed about the impact of the rumoured move, Xu said that Huawei’s infrastructure equipment “is basically not present in the US market”.

“Even smartphones are virtually not present there,” he added. “[Historically], Huawei’s equipment served those rural carriers in the United States in providing universal services to people living in remote areas. I saw those stories from the press but no matter how the outcome turned out it would not have a major impact on Huawei’s business because we have virtually no presence there and we don’t have expectations to build a major presence there.”

British security officials have recently expressed concerns about Chinese technology, but the government is expected to set limits on the presence of Huawei equipment in 5G infrastructure in Britain rather than banning it altogether. In a review published last year, UK officials also raised questions about the quality of Huawei’s software. The firm responded by committing to spend $2bn on rewriting its legacy code and improving its cyber security protections over the coming years.

“The $2bn is just a starting fund and definitely will not be enough [in the long term],” said Xu. “I hope through our efforts in the next three to five years we can turn out products that can be fostered by governments and by customers so as to support and sustain Huawei’s development.”

Xu is currently carrying out a review of the work required, which is expected to conclude in March.