Home GRASP GRASP/China The giant that no one trusts: why Huawei’s history haunts it

The giant that no one trusts: why Huawei’s history haunts it


The arrest of its chief financial officer has shone a light on its global role in telecoms – and links to the Chinese state
M any executives consider themselves figures of great significance, but few are capable of sending a chill through global markets simply by getting arrested. Meng Wanzhou, also known as Sabrina Meng or Cathy Meng, is one.
The chief financial officer of the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei – and the daughter of its billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei – was detained in Vancouver last week. She could face extradition to the US on charges thought to be related to allegations that Huawei breached sanctions levied by Washington against Iran.
Meng’s arrest, and Beijing’s demand that she be released amid allegations of “hooliganism” from the Chinese media, has dashed hopes of a thaw in US-China trade tensions. Chances of a rapprochement had appeared to be on the rise following a 90-day tariff truce agreed between the two countries at the recent G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
Stock markets in the US, UK and Europe – already skittish during this parlous period for relations between the world’s two biggest economies – gyrated on Tuesday and Thursday as investors considered the possibility of a fresh tariff escalation undermining an already fragile global economy.
While its finance director’s arrest has placed the company squarely at the centre of world affairs, Huawei is no stranger to being scrutinised with open distrust. It has been banned from involvement in the installation of 5G mobile networks in India, New Zealand and Australia, blocked from making acquisitions in the US and banned from selling phones on military bases by the Pentagon.
There is no official prohibition in the UK, but BT has excluded Huawei telecoms infrastructure from its own 5G rollout and removed some of its equipment from the 4G network.
Concerns about Huawei seem to emanate, at least in part, from the history of its 74-year-old founder, Ren, who has long had ties with both the People’s Liberation Army, where he served as an engineer, and the Communist party. Moreover, his company has grown into a globe-straddling colossus, the world’s largest telecoms equipment manufacturer, selling in 170 countries. It also overtook Apple earlier this year to become the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer behind Samsung, churning out 54m handsets in three months.
But however great its success, Huawei has never been able to dispel the cloud of suspicion that hangs over both Ren and his creation. Given the volume of espionage and cyber-attacks that originate in China – targeting nations and companies alike – questions have inevitably been raised about the security implications of using Huawei’s technology.
It is, after all, a company founded by a military tech expert.

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