Sun | Sep 15, 2019

Huawei founder says company would not share user secrets

Published:Wednesday | January 16, 2019 | 12:08 AM


The founder of Huawei said Tuesday that his company would refuse to disclose secrets about its customers and their communication networks, trying to lay to rest concerns that the Chinese tech giant might spy for the Communist government.

Ren Zhengfei spoke in a rare meeting with foreign reporters as Huawei Technologies Ltd, China's first global tech brand, tries to protect its access to global telecom carriers that are investing heavily in next-generation technology.

Ren's comments were the 74-year-old former military engineer's most direct public response to accusations that the world's biggest maker of telecom network gear is controlled by the ruling Communist Party or is required to facilitate Chinese spying.

The United States, Australia, Japan and some other governments have imposed curbs on use of its technology over such concerns.

"We would definitely say no to such a request," Ren said when asked how the company would respond to a government demand for confidential information about a foreign customer.

Asked whether Huawei would challenge such an order in court, Ren chuckled and said it would be up to Chinese authorities to "file litigation".

Ren said neither he nor the company has ever received a government request for "improper information" about anyone.

Huawei is facing heightened scrutiny as phone carriers prepare to roll out fifth-generation (5G) technology in which the company is a leading competitor. 5G is designed to support a vast expansion of networks to serve medical devices, self-driving cars and other technology. That increases the cost of potential security failures and has prompted governments increasingly to treat telecoms communications networks as strategic assets.


Spying charges


The company's image suffered a new blow last week when Polish authorities announced that one of its Chinese employees was arrested on spying charges. Huawei announced that it fired the employee and said the allegations had nothing to do with the company.

Ren is the father of Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested December 1 in Canada on US charges related to possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.

Ren said he couldn't discuss Meng's case while it still was before a court. But he said Huawei obeys the law, including export restrictions, in every country where it operates.

"After all the evidence is made public, we will rely on the justice system," he said. "We are sure there will be a just conclusion to this matter."

Two Canadians were arrested by Chinese authorities on national-security charges, prompting suggestions abroad that they might be hostages to secure Meng's release. On Monday, a Chinese court sentenced a Canadian to death in a drug case after he was ordered retried.

Asked how he felt about suggestions that Beijing took hostages in a case linked to Huawei, Ren said he saw no connection between the Canadians and Meng.

Ren, one of the oldest Chinese executives still working, was jovial and animated during the two-hour-and-20-minute meeting. Dressed in a blue sport coat and an open-necked light-blue shirt, he was accompanied by two Huawei board members, Chen Lifang and William Xu, and other company managers.

Ren said he became a Communist Party member in the early 1980s after the state press published reports about his development of a measuring tool for an engineering project. Before then, he could not join because his father was deemed a "capitalist roader", but the party was trying to promote young, technologically capable people following the end of the violent, ultra-radical Cultural Revolution in 1976.

Ren founded Huawei in 1987 to sell imported telecom switching gear to Chinese phone companies after the People's Liberation Army disbanded his engineering unit, according to the company.