Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei, once again dismissed the allegations that Huawei has been spying for the Chinese government in a rare meeting with the media.
UPDATE, 14:00 16/1/19: Huawei has now shared the transcript from the Ren Zhengfei interview, during which he foresaw Huawei’s business growth to be less than 20% in 2019, in view of the challenges and difficulties in international markets it might encounter. “I think our annual revenue for 2019 will probably be around 125 billion US dollars,” Ren said. Huawei’s revenues from 2018 stood at $108.5 billion.
Huawei’s normally reclusive founder told the Financial Times on Tuesday that he missed his daughter, who was arrested in Canada and faces extradition to the US. Ren also reiterated that Huawei has not spied for the Chinese government and has not been asked to do so. “No law in China requires any company to install mandatory backdoors,” Ren was quoted by the FT.
Ren also handed out an olive branch to President Trump, calling the latter “great” and recognising the positive results the American administration’ tax cuts had delivered to the American economy. But he also warned the isolationist route the current American government is pursuing. “The message to the US I want to communicate is: collaboration and shared success. In our world of high tech, it’s increasingly impossible for any single company or country to sustain or to support the world’s needs,” Ren said. Earlier President Trump said he ‘would intervene on Huawei CFO’s case to help China trade deal’.
When it comes to Huawei’s tactics to navigate the difficulties it faces in the western markets, Ren conceded “it’s always been the case, you can’t work with everyone . . . we’ll shift our focus to better serve countries that welcome Huawei,” he told the reporter.
By the founder’s own standard, this interview was a rare opportunity for the outside world to get more transparency of the company he set up 32 years ago. But we were not made much wiser on a few key questions.
Huawei’s CFO, and Ren’s daughter, was charged with misleading the American banks with false information on Huawei’s relationship with its subsidiary related to the company’s business in Iran, which resulted in the banks being handed multi-billion dollar fines. Ren’s interview did not shed new light on the case, despite expressing his parental feeling.
In the spirit of “presumed innocent until proved guilty”, we should believe that the Huawei founder was telling the truth when he claimed Huawei has not spied on behalf of the Chinese government. His words were also carefully chosen when he claimed, “no law in China requires any company to install mandatory backdoors”, which is true. Law enforcement agencies may require companies or private persons to assist their work. In some jurisdictions the companies or individuals have the legal right to refuse, as Apple did in 2015 when being asked by the FBI to unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernardino attackers.
In other jurisdictions companies and individuals are obliged to comply with such demands.
China’s Intelligence Law was passed by the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, in June 2017 and entered into force the following day. Two articles of the law are of interest here:
Article 7: An organization or citizen shall support, assist in and cooperate in national intelligence work in accordance with the law and keep confidential the national intelligence work that it or he knows. (Translation by the Law School, Peking University)
Article 14: National intelligence work institutions, when carrying out intelligence work according to laws, may ask relevant institutions, organizations and citizens to provide necessary support, assistance and cooperation. (Translation by QUARTZ)
In plain language this means the intelligence agencies have the mandate to require any institutions or individuals to cooperate (Article 14) and the institutions or individuals must comply (Article 7).
Therefore Ren, who declared “I still love my country, I support the Communist party” to the FT journalist, is law-bound to say Huawei has “never received any request from any government to provide improper information”, no matter whether it has received requests of this kind or not. Hypothetically, if Huawei had received requests from the Chinese intelligence agencies to assist their tasks, it could not refuse, otherwise it would be violating the first half of Article 7. On the other hand, if Huawei, hypothetically, had carried out intelligence tasks as required, it could not tell anyone, otherwise it would be violating the second half of Article 7.
But, seriously, no one would have expected an alternative answer.