If 5G is the symbol of technology’s new Cold War, which it is, then Huawei is China’s flag-bearer in that contest. Huawei’s founder and chief executive officer Ren Zhengfei understands that role.
Ren used last week’s live-streamed panel discussion, A Coffee with Ren, to hold up Huawei as a force for the good of humanity, not just as a global research and development leader.
He moved quickly past the company’s revised forecast that it would drop $30 billion of revenue from its forecast due to the trade war with the United States, and repeated his message that the company doesn’t steal intellectual property (IP), or put backdoors in its product.
Huawei is “determined” to build trustworthy networks.
“In the next five years, we will invest US$100 billion in reshaping network architecture, so that networks can be simpler, faster, more secure, and more trustworthy,” Ren said.
“At the very least, we should be able to meet the standards of Europe’s GDPR when it comes to privacy protection.”
What Ren meant by that wasn’t entirely clear.
“Of course, our revenue will need to double. If we face financial difficulties, we may cut our R&D investment, but the amount will still be close to that figure. We need to restructure networks and make more contributions to humanity,” he said.
“Huawei employees are everywhere — in the poorest areas of Africa, in places stricken with malaria, ebola, or AIDS, and in the wilderness. We don’t make much money there. We are there because of the commitment we have for humanity.”
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Ren said that Western nations have made contributions in basic science over “several hundred years”, China less so.
“China is very strong in engineering inventions, but weak when it comes to theoretical research. We have to diligently learn from the West in this regard,” he said.
“Since we have not contributed much to theories, we want to contribute more to serving humanity,” he said.
Sticking to the “official truth”
It should never be forgotten that A Coffee with Ren was a propaganda event for both China and Huawei. The moderator was Tian Wei, host of World Insight on the state-run China Global Television Network.
The edited transcript of the event reflected what the Twitter account @HuaweiFacts calls the “official truth and facts”.
Tian deftly deflected and suppressed a question about China’s censorship of Google, for example, and it is nowhere to be found in the transcript.
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One panellist was techno-utopian economist George Gilder, whose 1981 best-seller Wealth & Poverty promoted the idea of moral businesses that served their customers. His ideas about service outraged libertarian Ayn Rand so much that she devoted the last public speech of her life to denouncing him.
Gilder’s message of technology in service to humanity was clearly intended to underline Ren’s main theme. The official truth includes his assertion that “the basic challenge of the world economy today is to address the scandal of money”, and that the $5.1 trillion of currency trading every 24 hours “accomplishes nothing”.
What disappeared, though, was Gilder’s assertion that this currency trading endows central banks with “the right to steal from the future in order to consume in the present”.
The transcript returns with Gilder’s comments about blockchain becoming “not only a new internet architecture, but also a new global architecture for the world economy”. A new gold standard, no less.
Also present was Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. He was also an investor in Chinese internet company Sohu.
Negroponte wasn’t there just to add some techno-futurist cred. He’s also just accepted Ren as his student. This gave Ren the opportunity to reinforce the image of him, and therefore China, as a student of the West, as well as to mention slyly that the trade sanctions make US travel somewhat problematic.
Negroponte’s description of the two main types of best-practice education made it to the official truth, despite obvious potential for controversy.
There is the group, which is characterised by Finland, Sweden, and Norway, where students do very well, but there are no tests, shorter hours per day, shorter days per year, and no competition at all. So, the kids do very well. And then there is the other method. Since I am in China, let me say the Chinese method. This is to drill, practice, and test, and you probably kill 50% of your children in the process of doing that. But the ones who survive come out strong.
“We welcome more US politicians to come and visit Huawei themselves. Some of them may think we still live in grass huts and wear long queues — a hairstyle from dynastic China,” Ren said.
“If they come and look at Huawei’s pace of innovation, they will believe that it is worthwhile to make friends with us and that we can be trusted.”
If nothing else, they’re bound to be amazed by the architecture of Huawei’s innovation wonderland.
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