Business

Huawei insists it only wants a fair fight

Official says fear, politics shouldn't be part of the process

Zuma Press/TNS

Huawei Finance Chief Meng Wanzhou faces charges by the U.S. Justice Department of stealing trade secrets and violating sanctions by selling to countries such as Iran and North Korea.
Zuma Press/TNS Huawei Finance Chief Meng Wanzhou faces charges by the U.S. Justice Department of stealing trade secrets and violating sanctions by selling to countries such as Iran and North Korea.

Chinese tech company Huawei can meet U.S. standards for cybersecurity, but it wants fair rules rather than a ban based on fear and politics, says Andy Purdy, chief security officer at Huawei Technologies USA.

Huawei, which has its U.S. headquarters in Plano, Texas, makes equipment that spans the world of technology — from antennas and network equipment to mobile phones, laptops and smartwatches.

It sold more smartphones than Apple last year. Yet until recently, its name drew blank stares from many Americans.

“They recognize the name now,” Purdy said.

Huawei’s newfound fame is encased in suspicion and scorn as a result of its high-profile dispute with U.S. lawmakers and the Trump administration.

American officials have sought to ban the use of Huawei’s telecommunications equipment in the buildout of 5G, a next-generation wireless network expected to bring faster mobile phone service, support a growing number of connected devices and enable emerging technology such as self-driving cars.

They say Huawei could jeopardize the security of the network and use it to spy for the Chinese government.

U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have threatened to withhold intelligence from allies who use Huawei’s telecom equipment.

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They’ve also considered restricting American companies from supplying materials that Huawei needs for its 5G networks.

The company and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, face charges by the Justice Department of stealing trade secrets and violating sanctions by selling to countries such as Iran and North Korea.

The company executive, who is the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was arrested in December by Canadian authorities at the request of the United States.

The other side

In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Purdy offered a glimpse into what it’s like to work for the embattled company.

Purdy was hired by Huawei in 2012 after working as a cybersecurity expert in the private sector and for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Now, he’s on the other side of a government conflict. He worked in Warsaw for two weeks when Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo visited Poland and applauded that country’s tough stance on Huawei.

He listened as a hired public relations firm grilled his colleagues. He worked with his team late into the night.

“There are two things that matter to Huawei employees,” he said. “We want to be part of something really special, really important — and we are.

“And secondly, we want to be able to provide very well for our families. And we don’t want to jeopardize either of those things by doing something bad for someone on the outside.”

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As China has become a dominant global player and a growing economic and military power, Purdy said Huawei has become a target. He said the government should protect Americans by stepping up cybersecurity oversight of all vendors, rather than blocking Huawei.

The industry for network equipment is dominated by foreign companies. Huawei competes with Finnish company Nokia and Swedish company Ericsson, which also make network equipment.

All three companies’ U.S. operations are in north Texas.

“Our key message is that we want to work with government and private companies to create unified cybersecurity standards that can be used by everybody,” he said.

He said Huawei is eager to prove to U.S. regulators that it makes trustworthy and safe products. The United States already has ways to monitor companies more closely, he said.

U.S. national security agencies have struck agreements with other foreign telecom companies to monitor their communications and detect potential threats.

“There are mechanisms that have satisfied the U.S. government to prove you’re not subject to undue influence,” he said. “We welcome the opportunity to discuss those proven mechanisms.”

In recent months, Huawei has pushed back against U.S. opposition and sought to rehab its reputation.

It filed a lawsuit in Texas this month, saying the federal government is unfairly singling out the company and violating its constitutional rights by banning the government and its contractors from using Huawei equipment.

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In the lawsuit, the company said the United States has barred Huawei from much of the market, but hasn’t given the company a chance to prove itself and clear its name.

In the lawsuit, Huawei said it’s been unable to compete for many U.S. business opportunities.

For example, it bid on a project with the state of Georgia valued at about $20 million a year, but received a rejection letter from the state that cited the U.S. government’s restrictions.

Vermont sent a memo to all state agencies and departments, referring to the federal government’s policy and warning them not to sign contracts or buy equipment with Huawei.

‘Special economic zone’

The company’s founder also prompted U.S. concerns about potential influence by the Chinese government.

Ren Zhengfei, a Chinese engineer, spent nearly a decade in the People’s Liberation Army before founding the telecommunications company in 1987. It was founded in Shenzhen, a city that’s in southeastern China near Hong Kong.

In its lawsuit, however, Huawei stressed its independence from the Communist government. It said Huawei was established in “a special economic zone where market-oriented reforms were first introduced in China.”

It said the company is private, employee-owned and run by board members who have no roles in the Chinese government.

Huawei published a full-page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal in late February, saying, “Don’t believe everything you hear” and including facts about the company and an invitation to U.S. media to visit its offices.

Huawei operates in more than 170 countries, including the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

It employs more than 180,000. It has nearly 1,500 employees in the United States.

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Even before the latest scrutiny, Huawei’s efforts to crack into the U.S. market have been an uphill battle.

A congressional panel in 2012 cited Huawei and Chinese competitor ZTE as security threats and discouraged carriers from doing business with them. ZTE’s U.S. operations are in Richardson.

Huawei has been nearly shut out of the U.S. cellphone market — though it surpassed Apple in 2018 and became the world’s second-largest manufacturer of smartphones after Samsung.

AT&T dropped a plan last year that would have put a Huawei phone on an American carrier’s store shelves for the first time.

The Dallas-based carrier walked away from the deal days before a planned announcement at Consumer Electronic Show, an annual technology trade show in Las Vegas.

Americans can buy Huawei’s phones online, but cannot find them on shelves at the stores of any U.S. carrier.

But Purdy said Huawei still aspires to become a major player in the U.S. market.

“We are determined, and we are taking a long-term view,” he said.

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