The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy, in depth investigation into the alleged theft of intellectual property and assorted other dubious ethics that contributed to its meteoric rise in the networking gear and smartphone markets. The accounts are largely anecdotal, and fall short of the ‘smoking gun’ evidence many have been calling for, but the piece is undoubtedly helpful to the US government.
Many of the accounts go back 15 years, when it’s alleged Huawei started getting serious about reverse-engineering gear made by the leading networking vendors and telcos of the time. It leads with an account from the co-founder of Light Reading, talking about a Huawei employee who got caught trying to leave a US tech conference with a bunch of sensitive information, who apparently didn’t even think he was doing anything wrong.
There follows an account of Huawei’s rise since then, with regular inferences that it may, at the very least, have cut some ethical corners in the process, accompanied by denials from Huawei. Among the claimed evidence of IP theft were replicated bugs in Cisco gear and typos copied straight from Cisco manuals, which Huawei insisted were just a coincidence before admitting some guilt in a law suit.
The story then moves on to a Motorola law suit launched against Huawei in 2010, accusing it of industrial espionage. The subsequent investigation did seem to reveal some pretty conclusive evidence of this sort of thing taking place. It resulted in a conviction, even though Moto had dropped its own suit, possibly in response to pressure on its business from Chinese authorities.
5G, smartphone components and even music are among the other areas in which Huawei is alleged to have supplemented its own R&D efforts with a bit of light spying and IP theft. Meanwhile Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei is characterised militaristic and insatiably ambitious in his desire to compete and win globally, putting pressure on his employees accordingly. This allegedly includes continued calls for them to steal confidential information.
A day after the WSJ piece Ren gave an interview to Bloomberg. He used it to deliver a similar, defiant narrative to the one he gave Chinese media a few days previously. Via a rather tortured airplane metaphor Ren insisted that Huawei will adapt every time a US company decides not to do business with it. The message was that Huawei is in a much better position to weather the storm than ZTE was under similar circumstances last year.
Ren also continued with his conciliatory tone towards US companies (as opposed to politicians), even going so far as to say that, if the Chinese state decided to attack Apple in retaliation, he would be the first to oppose such a move. He also used the opportunity to once more deny charges of IP theft, noting that some of Huawei’s technology is ahead of anything in the US.
You can see footage of Ren’s Bloomberg interview below, followed by a recent broadcast from Chinese state-owned CGTN, which insists western media is on Huawei’s side in this dispute. The latter clip is clearly biased in favour of Huawei, but then again the WSJ piece could barely have been more helpful to the US state. Huawei is being very active in this propaganda war and the US might need to start putting more of its own spokespeople forward if it wants to win this battle of hearts and minds.