Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, in a rare public appearance following the arrest of his daughter in Canada, said his company has never spied for the Chinese government, the Financial Times reported.
“No law in China requires any company to install mandatory backdoors,” Ren said, in his first public comments in years, during an interview with reporters in the Chinese city of Shenzhen on Jan. 15. “Huawei, and myself, have never received any request from any government to provide [improper] information.”
The normally reclusive Ren’s public comments come as the Chinese telecoms giant battles several controversies. Meng Wanzhou, who is Ren’s daughter and the chief financial officer of Huawei, is facing extradition to the United States, where prosecutors allege that she violated U.S. sanctions against Iran by misleading banks about the company’s dealings in the Middle Eastern country.
Huawei has also been banned from several countries’ markets due to security concerns, while an employee was arrested on spying allegations in Poland this past weekend, along with a former Polish security official.
Ren, a former army engineer and current Communist Party member, said his company “would not answer to” requests from the Chinese regime to hand over information, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Ren didn’t provide details about how the company would resist requests from the government. But under China’s national security laws, all companies operating in the country are required to grant authorities control of its data if asked. The concept of national security is expansively defined to cover threats to the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian control, including opinions critical of the Party.
Huawei, the world’s largest producer of telecommunications equipment, has been under heightened scrutiny in the West over its close relationship with the Chinese regime and allegations that its products could be used by Beijing for spying—an allegation it has denied.
The company has effectively been excluded from the U.S. market since a 2012 congressional report sounded the alarm that the company’s products could pose a security threat.
Last August, the United States banned government agencies from using or purchasing equipment from Huawei and its domestic competitor ZTE. President Donald Trump is considering an executive order that would also ban U.S. companies from doing so.
In a November report, The Australian news outlet cited secret Australian intelligence reports that confirmed Huawei had turned over passwords and access details to China’s intelligence services to allow them access to a “foreign network,” although not an Australian one, a source said.
Last year, Australia and New Zealand banned Huawei from providing technology for their 5G networks, citing security risks. Japan also barred its government agencies from purchasing Huawei technology.
In the UK, the nation’s largest telecommunications company BT said in December 2018 that it wouldn’t use Huawei to develop its 5G network, and it would also remove Huawei gear from the core of its existing 4G and 3G networks. Canada is also currently reviewing whether the company’s equipment represents a national security risk.
Most recently, Poland said Jan. 13 it may consider banning the use of Huawei products by public bodies, after the arrest of the Chinese Huawei official.
Reuters contributed to this report.