The founder and chief executive of Huawei has said “the UK won’t say no to us” when it comes to including Huawei in its critical infrastructure.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News, Ren Zhengfei also praised Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “very decisive” and a “very capable person”.
The UK government is considering whether to incorporate equipment from the Chinese telecommunications giant in the roll-out of 5G, the next generation of mobile internet infrastructure.
The US has warned its allies against using Huawei because of security concerns.
Mr Ren described the UK’s upcoming decision as “very important”.
He said: “I noticed the third day that [Mr Johnson] was in office, he said UK should roll-out 5G as soon as possible.
“I think they won’t say no to us as long as they go through those rigorous tests and look at it in a serious manner and I think if they do say no, it won’t be to us.”
Mr Ren added that the UK could become “a huge industrial power” by focusing research on artificial intelligence (AI) and genetics.
In April, the UK’s National Security Council, chaired by then prime minister Theresa May, decided in principle to block Huawei from critical parts of national networks but allow it into other, non-core areas.
An official decision was supposed to have been reached in April, but in July this was delayed – apparently indefinitely.
The US has since renewed pressure on the new administration under Mr Johnson.
John Bolton, the US national security adviser and the most senior US official to visit the new PM so far, said he believed that the UK government would look at Huawei “from square one” earlier this week.
Huawei and the Chinese government
Washington is concerned Huawei equipment could be used by the Chinese government for espionage.
China’s National Intelligence Law, passed in 2017, says that “any organisation and citizen” shall support and co-operate “in national intelligence work”.
Mr Ren repeated previous denials that Huawei would comply with any request from the Chinese government to install so-called “backdoors”.
He said: “No, that’s not possible. Not possible. None of our employees would do anything like that because that would mean the death of Huawei. If no customer bought from us then we would be bankrupt.”
Mr Ren is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. Members must take an oath which includes this pledge: “Be loyal to the party, work enthusiastically, fight for communism all my life, be ready at all times to sacrifice everything for the party and the people, and never betray the party.”
Asked by Sky News whether he still stood by that oath, Mr Ren said he did, adding: “Because this oath is to serve all humanity. It is not just for Chinese people. It is for all of humanity and what we are doing is serving humanity.
“We didn’t say that we are loyal to the National Intelligence Law. The oath didn’t say that. You know all the oaths of political parties abroad is to serve the people.”
Mr Ren said that he had no contact with the Chinese leadership since the US began targeting Huawei: “No, because I don’t think there is any need to talk to the leadership. If we do that we fall into the trap of President Trump.”
Interventions by the Chinese government – which has made veiled economic threats to countries mulling Huawei bans – “are not particularly helpful”, Mr Ren said. The opposite was true for the US.
He added: “Without the propaganda from President Trump, people in the world wouldn’t know the competitiveness of Huawei products.
“We don’t particularly care which countries buy Huawei 5G because the issue is we just cannot keep up with such large demand.”
Being placed on the “Entity List” – which restricts US companies from exporting components and software to Huawei – has hurt the company badly, Mr Ren admitted.
As a result of Google potentially being banned from supply its Android software to Huawei phones, the Chinese company recently released its own operating system called Harmony. Mr Ren said: “It would take a very long time to build our own ecosystem. For a very long time we may not be able to maintain as top smartphone vendors.”
But that could eventually be an opportunity for Huawei – and a threat for the US. According to Mr Ren: “If the US government does not allow Google to provide Android system, then the world may have a third operating system – and that is not in the best benefit or interests of the United States, allowing a little brother operating system into the world. You cannot rule out the chance that the third operating system might outrun them someday.”
The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Mr Ren’s daughter and the chief financial officer of Huawei, by Canada after an extradition request by the US was “not a minor matter”, Mr Ren said. But he added that she was doing well under house arrest.
“She drinks coffee and also enjoys hot pot and chat with other people in the café,” he added.
After Meng Wanzhou was arrested, China detained two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have now been imprisoned since December without access to their families and lawyers.
Asked by Sky News whether he felt implicated, Mr Ren said: “For that I don’t know. I think that’s also issues of the two countries and that has nothing to do with us.”
Mr Ren admitted Huawei equipment was being used in Xinjiang, the region of northwest China where around a million Muslims are estimated to be detained in re-education centres, according to the UN. He did not give any specifics.
“In terms of telecommunication equipment we sell to carrier operators and other customers. We do sell equipment in our industry but the rights to use them are in the hands of the operators and these relevant enterprises,” he said.
Huawei supplies authoritarian regimes around the world, as well as Western democracies. Mr Ren said it was not Huawei’s place to weigh ethical issues over the use of its technology.
He added: “I actually do not make any prejudgement of a government first before we sell to our customers. Because every country has its sovereign system.
“It’s not in our position to interfere with the sovereignty of other states. If we did then we would be playing the game of politics right? And that’s a matter for sovereign states.”