Huawei has suggested it could withdraw investments in countries that impose restrictions on its business.
Several countries are excluding the Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer from their 5G rollouts, while other nations are considering measures that would limit the company’s influence on their communications infrastructure.
The main basis for these fears is a perception that Huawei is linked to the Chinese government and that the use of the company’s equipment risks the possibility of backdoors that could be used for espionage. These fears are heightened by 5G because of the sensitive information these networks will carry.
Huawei has long been frozen out of the US market, while Australia has expressly banned the company from its 5G rollout. Agencies and government officials in other nations, including Germany, Norway and the Czech Republic, have also expressed concerns.
Senior executives at Huawei have made rare public appearances to address these issues. The most notable of these was a press roundtable attended by founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, where he stated that he and the company had never spied on behalf of the Chinese government and had no intentions of doing so.
Now at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Chairman Liang Hua told journalists that should Huawei face further obstacles in certain countries, it could move its investments to somewhere “where we are welcomed.”
“We would transfer the technology partnership to countries where we are welcomed and where we can have collaboration with,” he is quoted as saying the BBC.
The UK is the subject of £3 billion worth of investments – including a new headquarters near Reading – but there is no suggestion that these are at risk.
Huawei has repeatedly denied accusations of spying, pointing out that it works with security agencies around the world and that it sells products to more than 500 operators in 170 countries without issue. This includes the UK, where BT, EE, Vodafone and Three are all customers.
Hua has invited anyone with concerns to inspect Huawei's facilities in China.
A Huawei employee has been arrested in Poland on allegations of spying – although Huawei has dismissed that person and distanced itself from their alleged actions.
There is unlikely to be any enthusiasm for a ban among customers who value Huawei for its innovations and fear a reduced pool of suppliers will increase prices. One operator that has lent its support is Canada's Telus, which has declared Huawei to be a "reliable" equipment partner.
However, Canada is also a problem for Huawei. Zhengfei’s daughter and company CFO Meng Wanzhou is currently being held in Canada as US officials attempt to extradite her to face charges of fraud related to alleged dealings with Iran. Canada has said that US plans to file for extradition, but it has no idea when this will happen.
This has raised diplomatic and trade tensions between China and the US and Canada.US President Donald Trump has suggested he could intervene if this would aid relations and Hua has urged for a speedy resolution to the situation
“We are following this issue closely but haven’t had direct contact with the authorities. We will call for a quick conclusion for Ms. Meng so that Ms. Meng can have her personal freedom,” he is quoted as saying.