December 6, 2019
Huawei Technologies has been on a charm offensive to convince the United States and other Western countries that it is not the bad player suggested by legislators and regulators. Now the company is lodging lawsuits against its critics, including a defamation complaint in France against a journalist who said Huawei is controlled by the Chinese government. At the same time, closer to home, Huawei’s reputation is suffering a hit that began with a hair-raising story a former employee posted online.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Huawei won a judgment against a small Lithuanian newspaper that mistranslated and published information about a data breach and threatened to sue the Czech Republic, which stated its smartphones aren’t secure. “There seems to be a new wave of lawfare,” said Martin Hala, director of a website that tracks Chinese political activity in Central and Eastern Europe. “In many of these lawsuits, it might perhaps be understood as an attempt at intimidation.”
Huawei countered that the lawsuits are a last resort in “defending itself against false and unsubstantiated claims.” On the PR front, Huawei has “published open letters in international newspapers, budgeted millions of dollars on lobbyists, brought thousands of journalists to its sprawling campus in southern China and sat its founder Ren Zhengfei for numerous interviews.”
Among Huawei’s targets is Valerie Niquet, a Foundation for Strategic Research senior research fellow, who, on a news program in France, said Huawei is “directly under the control of the state and the Chinese Communist Party.” Niquet isn’t the only one to make that claim, but Huawei subsequently filed a defamation lawsuit. In March, it also filed a lawsuit in Texas challenging an FCC decision “curbing [its] business with rural telecom operators.”
The New York Times reports that the story of Huawei former employee Li Hongyuan went viral, turning many Chinese citizens against the company. A graduate of one of China’s top universities, Li worked 12-hour days, six days a week at Huawei, but when his contract wasn’t renewed, he asked for severance pay. Instead, he was jailed for 251 days.
After he went public with his story (he was released with no charges and $15,000 in government compensation), angry responses were eventually censored and the articles and comments were deleted. Now, citizens who are still angry are taking it out on Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who wrote an open letter on the one-year anniversary of her Vancouver house arrest.
“The anger directed toward Meng reflected an uneasy moment for both Huawei and China’s middle-class professionals,” notes NYT, since the company “has been considered the crown jewel of the country’s tech industry and has enjoyed tremendous good will.”
“Many middle-class Chinese used to believe that if they went to good schools, worked hard and cared little about the current affairs they would be able to realize their Chinese dreams,” said one blogger on Weibo. “Now their dreams are in tatters.” Of the 1,400 comments that Meng’s open letter received, “many simply said 251, the number of days Li was detained … [and] fewer than 10 comments, sympathetic ones, are still visible to the public.”