Huawei steps up charm offensive

Foreign journalists visit China facilities in rare tour, as firm waves off US security fears

A Huawei mobile phone production line seen during a media tour of the company's state-of-the-art facilities in Dongguan, China's Guangdong province, yesterday.
A Huawei mobile phone production line seen during a media tour of the company's state-of-the-art facilities in Dongguan, China's Guangdong province, yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

DONGGUAN (Guangdong) • Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei said yesterday its products feature no security "backdoors" for the government, as the normally secretive company gave foreign media a peek inside its state-of-the-art facilities.

Huawei has kicked off the year with an aggressive public relations campaign to counter US warnings that its equipment could be used by Beijing for espionage and sabotage, with reclusive founder Ren Zhengfei denying the fears in a series of foreign media interviews.

The charm offensive went into a higher gear as Huawei welcomed news organisations to its facilities in Guangdong province.

That included a stop at Huawei's independent cyber-security laboratory, whose director Wang Jin waved off the US fears.

"Our most basic red line is that our products cannot have any backdoors," Mr Wang said.

Journalists also toured a huge factory floor with 35 highly automated assembly lines in the city of Dongguan, where an array of robotic arms put together a Huawei P20 smartphone every 28.5 seconds.

Foreign journalist visits are hardly routine at Huawei's facilities in Guangdong, where high-tech labs and manufacturing facilities employ more than 60,000 people, but these are unusual times for the company.

The United States claims Huawei equipment could be manipulated by China's government to spy on other countries and disrupt critical communications.

Washington is urging governments to shun the company just as the world readies for the advent of ultra-fast 5G networks, an advancement that Huawei was expected to lead and which will allow wide adoption of next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence.

Huawei's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, Mr Ren's daughter, also faced a court hearing yesterday in Vancouver on a US extradition request. The US Justice Department accuses Huawei and Meng of circumventing American sanctions against Iran.

Two affiliates have also been charged with stealing trade secrets from telecoms group T-Mobile.

During yesterday's tour of Huawei's facilities, journalists were served coffee in cups featuring an image of a lighthouse and the words: "Lighting a beacon for Wanzhou's early return."

Associate Professor Christopher Balding, a China expert at Fulbright University in Ho Chi Minh City, said Huawei's sudden PR outreach shows its concern over the US stance, but that the company should not suffer too much damage.

"They should be able to ride this out," he told AFP. "It's not realistic to expect the entire world to shun Huawei and that probably wouldn't be good anyway."

After intense recent lobbying by Huawei, reports have suggested that Britain and New Zealand may walk back earlier indications that the company would be frozen out of their telecoms plans.

Huawei rotating chairman Guo Ping will hold a news conference today at the Shenzhen headquarters that may be the real reason for the media tour's timing.

The New York Times on Monday cited anonymous sources as saying Huawei this week will announce plans to sue the US government for barring American federal agencies from using the company's products.

Huawei declined to comment publicly on the report.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2019, with the headline Huawei steps up charm offensive. Subscribe