The reclusive founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei warned Donald Trump Monday: “There's no way the U.S. can crush us.”
Speaking to the BBC in a rare on-camera interview, Ren Zhengfei also called the arrest of his daughter, Meng Wanzhou — the company’s chief financial officer — “politically motivated.”
Besides pursuing Meng and Huawei on charges of money laundering, fraud and stealing trade secrets, the White House has recently increased pressure on its international allies to block the use of the company’s equipment in next-generation 5G networks over security fears.
“The world cannot leave us because we are more advanced,” a defiant Ren said. “Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always scale things down a bit.”
The interview came hours after Vice President Mike Pence praised Poland for “protecting the telecoms sector from China.”
Warsaw said it was considering excluding the company from its 5G networks following the arrest a Huawei employee for spying.
Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have this week been touring Europe to push the White House message that Huawei is a threat to national security.
Beijing hit back, saying Washington is trying to “fabricate an excuse for suppressing the legitimate development” of Chinese enterprises, and accused the U.S. of using “political means” to interfere in economic activity, “which is hypocritical, immoral and unfair bullying.”
While New Zealand and Australia have joined the U.S. in committing to outright bans, the U.K. — a key ally in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network — suggested it would not ban Huawei completely.
A yet-to-be-published report from the National Cyber Security Centre will reportedly advise that the U.K. can manage whatever risks arise from using Huawei equipment. This would amount to a direct rebuke of the Trump administration.
Pompeo last week warned allies that using Huawei equipment would make it more difficult for Washington to “partner alongside them.”
Huawei has been accused by some analysts of trying to drive a wedge between the Five Eyes partners. “Coming at a time of U.K. institutional concern over Brexit and the U.K.’s need to establish a new trading relationship with China, the U.K. has become vulnerable to be peeled away from the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance on 5G,” Declan Ganley, a telecoms entrepreneur, told VICE News,.
In his interview, Ren did little to dispel that suggestion.
“We still trust in the U.K., and we hope that the U.K. will trust us even more,” Ren said. “We will invest even more in the U.K. Because if the U.S. doesn't trust us, then we will shift our investment from the U.S. to the U.K. on an even bigger scale.”
he added that even if the company loses some contracts in the West other markets are open for growth.
“If the lights go out in the West, the East will still shine. And if the North goes dark, there is still the South. America doesn't represent the world. America only represents a portion of the world,” he said.
A Freedom House report at the end of 2018 showed that Huawei — together with compatriot ZTE — were building large parts of Africa’s internet infrastructure, Latin America’s largest public Wi-Fi network in Mexico and Bangladesh’s 5G network.
China’s close relationship with many southeastern Asian countries will also boost the company’s opportunities. Huawei said last week it was confident of winning the contract to supply Vietnam’s 5G network.
Cover image: Ren Zhengfei, founder and chief executive officer of Huawei Technologies Co., speaks during an interview at the company's headquarters in Shenzhen, China, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)