The Chinese company is using western spokesmen to counter claims made in the recent US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report that it is a "credible security threat to US interests". Martyn Warwick reports.
According to Tim Watkins, the vice president of Huawei, Western Europe, the recent highly critical US government report on the Chinese company's antecedents, business practices and potential to foment and expedite cyber attacks on US and other western interests via its equipment and other infrastructure already in place in networks around the world is "unbalanced" and an example of "Americans being Americans". With chips on both shoulders Huawei itself is, of course, quite perfectly balanced,
If by "Americans being Americans", Mr. Watkins means the US is looking after its own interests whilst casting a jaundiced eye on Huawei's peculiar history and not-so-hidden links to the gerontocracy running the People's Republic of China, he is spot on. Would that the British government would do the same here in the UK rather than, as happened last month, inviting Huawei's elusive and ultra self-effacing founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, to tea and buns with the Prime Minister. The visit was little reported, but it happened right enough.
Meanwhile, back in the US, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report doesn't mince its words and comes to the conclusion that both Huawei and ZTE are "credible security threats" to US interests. It adds, "The United States should view with suspicion the continued penetration of the US telecommunications market by Chinese telecommunications companies."
Since the report, which Huawei described as "little more than an exercise in China-bashing" was published both it and ZTE have spent a lot of time, money and other resources on efforts to counter its conclusion that US companies should be very wary indeed of doing business with either of them.
Huawei and ZTE have grown rapidly to become major telecoms companies (indeed Huawei is now the second-biggest telecoms company on the planet) and both began their rise to power by providing cheap equipment to developing nations. However, once established as credible forces they began to look to developed markets where they must have an expansive presence if either is ever going to be able to claim to be a truly long-term global player.
Another of Huawei's big guns, William Plummer, the Washington DC-based lobbyist, apologist and spokesperson for the company, said of the House report that "the outcome was predetermined.
The political agenda was one of poking China in the eye and holding hostage an innocent, independent, employee-owned company."
Yes, he really did say that while John Lord, the boss of Huawei Australia. observed that the House of Representative's report is a "geopolitical stunt" that "must be called what it really is: protectionism, not security."
Tim Watkins also said that while several US Tier 1 telcos had opted to deploy Huawei kit, they "had been put under political pressure to prevent them from doing that business." Mr Watkins added, "But the Tier 2 operators are customers and generated revenues of US$1.3 billion in America" last year.
Then, despite complaining that the US government had interfered to prevent commerce flowing freely from China to the US, Mr. Watkins claimed that the report's damning conclusion had made little real difference to Huawei's business other than, in the period immediately before the House report hit the newswires, having "some influence on decisions made elsewhere and in other markets." There's a man who likes to have his cake and eat it.
And while Messrs. Lord, Plummer and Watkins do their best to defend their employer, Matt Bross, former CTO of BT has resigned from the company after a pretty unhappy three years.
Matt Bross and Huawei was never going to be an easy match; the Chinese company is far too buttoned-up, secretive, structured and controlling to be able to cope easily or amicably with Mr. Bross who is expansive, chatty, clever, fast on his feet, given to ad libs and off-the-cuff (and therefore potentially "off message") comments. He was also possessed of a profound dislike of being more or less force-marched from one officially sanctioned and approved appointment to another in the middle of a phalanx of a dozen or so hard-faced Huawei minders. I know this to be true for I saw it happen with my own eyes - and several times at that.
The departure of Matt Bross leaves Huawei's plans to break big time into the North American market in tatters. He was the friendly and acceptable face of Huawei in the US and his overall corporate remit was to get Huawei equipment into US carriers. Given the damning report from House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that now not going to happen and Matt Bross obviously thinks he will be better off elsewhere. Rumours have it that the big man is moving on to Juniper Networks. Watch this space.
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