17 January 2019

Huawei founder says company would refuse sharing user secrets

Silent to date on government scrutiny, Huawei chief clarifies the firm's legal response to speculation about confidential data.

Ren Zhengfei, founder and CEO of Huawei, said the tech giant would reject requests from the Chinese government to disclose confidential information about its customers and their communication networks.

Say ‘no’

Ren Zhengfei spoke in a rare meeting with foreign reporters as Huawei Technologies, China’s first global tech brand. It is his first direct public response to accusations his company 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 Huawei technology over such concerns. If a government demands confidential information about a foreign buyer of its telecom technology, Mr Ren said ‘we would definitely say no to such a request.’ He said neither he nor the company have ever received a government request for ‘improper information’ about anyone. In the event of any such order in court, Mr Ren responded it would be up to Chinese authorities to ‘file litigation.’ The company forecasts last year’s revenue will exceed $100 billion for the first time, and this year the target Mr Ren said is $125 billion. Huawei says it is employee-owned.

Strategic assets

Huawei is facing heightened scrutiny as phone carriers prepare to roll out fifth-generation technology, a market in which Huawei is a leading competitor. 5G is designed to support a vast expansion of networks to serve medical devices, self-driving cars and other technology. The cost of potential security failures has prompted governments increasingly to treat telecoms communications networks as strategic assets. Mr Ren founded Huawei in 1987 to sell imported telecom switching gear to Chinese phone companies after the PLA disbanded his engineering unit. Despite Communist party membership, he says Huawei makes decisions based on its customers’ needs, ‘I don’t see a close connection between my personal political beliefs and our commercial decisions.’