Huawei Embarks on PR Blitz Amid Global Concerns About Its Shady Practices

By Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
February 4, 2019 Updated: February 4, 2019

Chinese telecom giant Huawei is conducting an aggressive public relations campaign to allay global concerns about security loopholes in its equipment by inviting foreign leaders and reporters to visit its headquarters in Shenzhen City.

Most recently, the tech firm invited a reporter from the Globe and Mail—a Canadian newspaper that has reported extensively on the extradition case of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was charged by the United States with violating Iran sanctions—to visit its headquarters on Jan. 31.

The Globe and Mail report noted that the visit “would have been impossible to arrange” two months ago.

Huawei arranged a tour for the reporter, which included a brief look at a largely robotic assembly line for the new Huawei P20 smartphone; the “Noah’s Ark” artificial intelligence lab; and other research divisions. Liang Hua, Huawei’s chairman, also gave the reporter a one-hour exclusive interview.

During the interview, the reporter asked Liang about indictments against Huawei that the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed at the end of January, especially with regard to allegations that Huawei encouraged employees to steal trade secrets regarding Tappy, a robot developed by U.S. mobile carrier T-Mobile in 2017.

Liang responded vaguely by saying it’s “not clear,” while seeming to vindicate the company of IP-theft claims by saying it owns 80,000 patents, 10,000 of which are under license in the United States. Liang also told the reporter that Huawei has partnerships with more than 10 Canadian universities, and the resulting intellectual property “belongs to the [Canadian] professors.”

But Global and Mail found that Canadian scholars who worked at universities that cooperated with Huawei, with the support of Canadian public funds, filed 40 U.S. patent applications in 2018—which were all applied under Huawei’s name. Huawei has even secured exclusive rights to some of the intellectual property.

That would mean Liang lied to the reporter.

Huawei’s management team repeatedly told the reporter that they avoid hiring people with intelligence or military backgrounds, but that was found to be false. For example, Sun Yafang, the chairwoman of Huawei from 1999 to 2018, has a background in the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s chief intelligence agency, according to a U.S. CIA report in 2011.

The Globe and Mail isn’t the first foreign media that was invited to visit Huawei headquarters. In May 2018, a reporter from CNBC received a tour of the headquarters. After the visit, CNBC published a four-minute video about the campus.

The company also frequently invites foreign leaders. Liang said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January that “his company would welcome foreign officials to its 5G research and development facilities in China,” Total Telecom reported on Jan. 22.

In August 2018, Huawei hosted Graham Stuart, member of Parliament and undersecretary of state at the United Kingdom’s Department for International Trade, at its headquarters to promote Huawei’s business.

But the PR efforts haven’t quelled security concerns.

U.K. newspaper The Telegraph reported on Feb. 3 that an upcoming annual report on Huawei’s security measures conducted by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Center—an oversight board created by the UK government—would accuse Huawei of “failing to address security concerns.” In July 2018, the oversight board had assessed that Huawei offered limited assurances to its security.

The evaluation report noted that Huawei spent $2 billion to address security issues in the UK.

“If Huawei now fails to restore confidence in the UK, it will likely spell the end of its ambitions across the ‘Five Eyes’ nations,” the evaluation report said.

Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising the Anglophone countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the United States. All but Canada has banned Huawei from helping build a new high-speed network. But the Canadian government said it is now evaluating the risk of using Huawei’s products.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Harper’s former national security adviser Richard Fadden, and other Canadian politicians have said publicly that Canada should ban Huawei from its 5G networks.

Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.