Huawei bosses dial down rhetoric to avoid a Hong Kong bombshell
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.