Huawei bosses dial down rhetoric to avoid a Hong Kong bomb­shell

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce - By

Han­nah Boland

AF­TER 20 min­utes of grilling from the science and tech­nol­ogy com­mit­tee, Huawei’s UK vice pres­i­dent seemed al­most re­lieved at the ques­tion from com­mit­tee chair­man Greg Clark.

Yes, staff at the Chi­nese tele­coms gi­ant were free to ex­press their own views, Huawei’s Jeremy Thomp­son an­swered con­fi­dently. “Very much so.”

But that wasn’t the end of it. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Clark wasn’t merely in­ter­ested in Huawei’s HR poli­cies. “So what’s your view on the new se­cu­rity law in Hong Kong?” the MP asked.

“Um...” The cam­era shot back to the Huawei VP, vis­i­bly red­den­ing, squirm­ing in his seat. He let out a wheeze of ter­ri­fied laugh­ter. “I’m a tele­coms ex­ec­u­tive. I’ve worked in tele­coms all my life. My role is to en­able our cus­tomers to pro­vide com­mu­ni­ca­tions faster and cheaper. I don’t have a view.”

“You don’t have a view or you don’t think it would be con­sis­tent with your role at Huawei?” Clark barked back.

“I don’t think it would be con­sis­tent with my role at Huawei in this fo­rum,” the ex­ec­u­tive said. “You’ve in­vited me here, chair­man, as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Huawei. I rep­re­sent Huawei. Huawei does not get in­volved in judg­ing the rules of dif­fer­ent coun­tries.”

Clark turned his at­ten­tion to Vic­tor Zhang, a vice pres­i­dent and chief rep­re­sen­ta­tive at Huawei UK. “As Jeremy said, as a com­pany we are not in the po­si­tion to com­ment on that po­lit­i­cal agenda,” Zhang stated firmly.

In truth, what was clear was that Huawei was at­tempt­ing to stay out of the head­lines, with its ex­ec­u­tives me­thod­i­cally re­ply­ing with com­ments un­fail­ingly aligned with the firm’s cor­po­rate po­si­tion. A throw­away com­ment on is­sues in Hong Kong would hardly be wel­come. They even steered clear of doom-mon­ger­ing over what its re­moval from UK net­works could mean.

The same could not be said for tele­coms op­er­a­tors. “An ul­tra ag­gres­sive im­po­si­tion of a change in pol­icy could ham­per our eco­nomic recovery in the UK,” An­drea Dona, Voda­fone UK’s head of net­works, warned. It would cost “sin­gle-fig­ure bil­lions” of pounds to re­move Huawei’s equip­ment from net­works.

BT’s Howard Wat­son went fur­ther. Hav­ing to rip out Huawei “would lit­er­ally mean black­outs for cus­tomers on 4G and 2G net­works, as well as 5G through­out the coun­try”, he said.

Huawei’s ex­ec­u­tives may have avoided such rhetoric for now. It may be re­luc­tant to get in­volved in po­lit­i­cal is­sues in Hong Kong.

But its si­lence could pro­vide more rea­son for the US to step up its cam­paign against the com­pany – even if that spells mo­bile phone black­outs and eye-wa­ter­ing costs.

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