Huawei Founder Breaks Silence

The elusive founder and chief executive of Chinese telecom giant , Ren Zhengfei, gave his first-ever press briefing on Thursday as he held court with local media in Wellington, . From The Wall Street Journal:

Until this week, Mr. Ren, 68 years old, had made few public appearances. The last time he was seen speaking at a public event was at a conference last June in St. Petersburg.

Mr. Ren’s first media briefing comes at a time when his company is trying to increase transparency after facing challenges in the U.S., where security concerns raised by lawmakers over the Chinese firm’s network equipment have prevented it from doing any meaningful business. The event also followed Huawei’s recent efforts to make more executives available to the media. When the company released its 2012 annual report last month, two of its most senior executives hosted a roundtable with reporters. Still, improved accessibility of executives made Mr. Ren’s absence even more obvious.

“Mr. Ren was starting to feel more comfortable about speaking with the media,” said Huawei spokesman Scott Sykes. “This is a major step for us.”

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Huawei only recently began to offer the public access to its decision makers. No international media or photographers were allowed at the briefing, according to BBC News, which reported that Ren addressed concerns held by the U.S. and other countries over Huawei’s relationship with the Chinese government and military:

“Huawei has no connection to the cyber-security issues the US has encountered in the past, current and future,” he told the reporters.

“Huawei equipment is almost non-existent in networks currently running in the US. We have never sold any key equipment to major US carriers, nor have we sold any equipment to any US government agency,” Mr Ren said.

There have been concerns and allegations that Huawei was helping China gather information on foreign states and companies, charges that the firm has denied.

According to a Fairfax Media, one of the outlets to interview Mr Ren, he told reporters that he was confident that no staff member of Huawei would engage in spying even if asked to do so by Chinese agencies.

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Ren chose New Zealand as the location for the briefing because Huawei has enjoyed friendly treatment in the country, according to Forbes’ Robert Olsen. Bloomberg Businessweek’s  Bruce Einhorn notes that Ren stepped into the spotlight far away from his company’s biggest markets:

Ren didn’t reveal much. What is his relationship to the People’s Liberation Army? What role, if any, does the Chinese military have in the ownership or operation of Huawei? Suspicions about that connection drive a lot of the anti-Huawei activity of lawmakers and officials in the U.S. and elsewhere, so Ren could have helped clear the air by talking about the army.

Instead, he described how he became a Communist. He joined the party in 1978, shortly after the Cultural Revolution, and presented himself as an idealist who still believed the era’s serve-the-people rhetoric. “At that time my personal belief was to work hard, dedicate myself or even sacrifice myself for the benefit of ‘the people,’” he said. “Joining the Communist Party was in line with that aspiration.” As for human-rights issues in today’s China, Ren said, “For people like myself who went through the Cultural Revolution and all those complicated times, I think China has gone through tremendous progress.”

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