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Huawei CEO denies the company spies for China – and praises Trump

January 15th, 2019 at 11:18 PM
Huawei CEO interview

After weeks of seeing the China-based tech giant he leads deal with a crushing wave of negative publicity, the billionaire founder and CEO of Huawei has broken his typical silence to give a rare and somewhat extraordinary interview.

Following the recent arrest in Canada of his daughter — Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou — ahead of presumed extradition to the US, not to mention the conventional wisdom that China uses the company’s mobile products as potential tools for spying, the businessman decided to fire back. “No law requires any company in China to install mandatory back doors,” CEO Ren Zhengfei said during remarks today. “I personally would never harm the interest of my customers and me and my company would not answer to such requests.”

As a reminder, Huawei has been aggressively trying to grab market share for its smartphone business such that it eventually displaces Samsung as the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer. The company has said that could happen as soon as this year. However, there’s at least one significant hurdle to getting there.

While its phones aren’t available for sale in the US, the US has nevertheless been pushing allies around the world to ban Huawei products there on the basis that the company is potentially a de facto arm of the Chinese government. And not only does that fear about back doors and spying dog the company and its products, though — Ren’s daughter was arrested on December 1 while she was on a layover in Vancouver.

Thanks to some behind-the-scenes dealings, she’s accused of violating US sanctions against companies doing business with Iran. China has since counterpunched, arresting two Canadians on charges of drug smuggling. This week, they were sentenced to death.

It’s against this backdrop that it’s worth pausing to mention the criticism of President Trump in some circles that he is easily influenced by even the slightest of praise which world leaders direct his way. We add that, because during his remarks Ren also, oh by the way, made a somewhat surprising diversion to praise Trump as a “great president.”

He alluded to the “detention of certain individuals” as potentially having a chilling impact on the relations between US and China. But he quickly made clear that, just so you know, “For President Trump as a person, I still believe he is a great president.”

Ren continued: “It’s also important to treat countries with potential investors nicely, so that those investments will come. If countries or companies are getting frightened… by the detention of certain individuals, and then those potential individuals might be scared away, and that is definitely not in the interest of the United States.”

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.

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