Just over 30 years ago, the telecom giant Huawei was founded in China by Zhengfei Ren. The company now enjoys global success. Euronews met up with him at the company's headquarters in Shenzhen as the company faces intense scrutiny.
Huawei has been on a US trade blacklist since May, amid suspicions that its equipment could be used to spy - and questions about its ties with the Chinese government.
To listen to the full interview please click on the player above.
Damon Embling, Euronews: "Zhengfei Ren thank you very much indeed for joining us on the Global Conversation. What I really want to know is how you developed a company in China, when actually at one point the Chinese state, the government, really didn’t like you, did they, they wanted to close you down, didn’t they?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "Yes, the government didn't know us very well when we first started out, because we adopted the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, under which employees owned the company's capital. We might have been misunderstood as a capitalist company, which was not in line with socialism. But these misunderstandings began to disappear over 10 years ago, as we paid an increasing amount of tax to the government."
"We now pay a total of 20 billion US dollars of tax to governments around the world every year, most of which goes to the Chinese government."
US trade row with China
_Damon Embling: "Now, the US is embroiled in a trade row with China at the moment. You have the US administration accusing Huawei of possibly using its technology to spy on other countries."
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "The US-China trade dispute has nothing to do with us. We barely had any sales in the US, and US cyber and information security has nothing to do with us. It is a fact that the US networks and information are not safe even though no Huawei technology is present in them."
"If we were involved in any security issues, the US would have used them as evidence in the EU. We haven’t done anything, nor would we need to. History has shown that we haven't done anything."
Damon Embling: "You're saying that Huawei has never spied, never will spy, and has never been asked to spy?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "Yes. Definitely."
Damon Embling: "What would you say to those critics that say Huawei is meddled in by the Chinese government, it’s spying, it’s not a company we should trust?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "I don’t say anything to them. The facts will determine whether those critics are right."
Damon Embling: "The US allegations, they’re deeply damaging for you, aren't they?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "I don't think the US allegations have hurt or affected us that much. In fact, the lobbying of so many politicians around the world has had a positive impact on Huawei. Seeing such a powerful country attack Huawei, customers in many countries take that as a sign of Huawei's strength."
"There won't be any financial risks. In fact, our growth won’t be that bad. Some customers choose not to buy from Huawei. That's understandable. But there are also many customers who continue to buy from us."
Damon Embling, Euronews: "How have you tried to engage with the US administration about this?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "We chose to file a lawsuit against the US government in court."
"But ultimately, it will be US companies that suffer most. If US companies will lose many parts of Chinese markets. This is not in their best interest."
"If the US gives up on globalization, it would give Europe a huge opportunity."
Damon Embling, Euronews: "And as you look to the future, obviously 5G is a big part of your business… Is it game-changer in your view, 5G? How is it going to change our lives?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "5G is like the difference between roads and highways. Cars can run on both, but they can go faster on highways."
"I’ll give you a slightly abstract example to show you what kind of value 5G can bring to our lives. An Airbus A320 has signaling cables that weigh about 17 tons. If wireless networks, rather than cables were used to connect various types of equipment in the airplane, the airplane would be far lighter and need far less fuel. In addition, flight conditions would be improved. That would create tremendous value."
Damon Embling, Euronews: "The European Union very recently published a report about cybersecurity and 5G and this report concluded there could be increased exposure to attacks because of 5G and they were saying attacks could come from non-EU states and state-backed actions… How risky is 5G in reality?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "How risky is driving a car? You may get into an accident if you drive too fast. But if you drive a car responsibly, it can take you to many beautiful places. It's the same for 5G."
"Huawei is trying to reassure Europeans by complying with the EU's cybersecurity management regulations, the General Data Protection Regulation ( GDPR), and all other EU laws and regulations."
Relationship with the European Union
Damon Embling, Euronews: "What kind of relationship do you want to have with the European Union with 5G and other future digital technologies?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "First, Huawei respects and supports the EU's digital sovereignty"
"Second, we will also invest in and support the growth of European SMEs, and offer guidance where we can. This kind of cooperation will lead to shared success for all. To compare a tech ecosystem to the soil, we aim to provide fertile soil in Europe, and then European companies can plant crops in it."
Damon Embling, Euronews: "One of the big political earthquakes in the European Union has been Brexit... Do you worry as a big telecom company that it could affect you?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "I don’t think Brexit will affect Huawei at all, it’s the population that affects us. Everyone needs telecom services and if there aren’t any changes in the population, then Brexit won’t have an impact on us. We only need to adapt to the situation and do what we do well."
Damon Embling, Euronews: "Closer to home, there’s obviously been the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong. From a business perspective, how worrying is the instability in Hong Kong for your business and for this region, do you think?"
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "Hong Kong is tiny, so its impact on the world is not as big as some might have imagined."
"In my opinion, demonstrators should use words to peacefully express their opinions, which is an important aspect of capitalist democracy. No country in the world will ever support vandalism."
Damon Embling, Euronews: "You're 75 years old now, when are you going to finally throw that hat on the floor and say, "Okay, it's enough now"?
Zhengfei Ren, Founder & CEO, Huawei: "First, when I become slow in thinking. Second, when the US government lets me retire!"