Jan 21, 2020

Huawei CEO at Davos: We're better prepared for U.S. attacks

Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei. Screenshot by Axios

Huawei chief Ren Zhengfei said Tuesday that his company is prepared for any further U.S. "attacks," but he believes the world can avoid splitting into two separate technology systems.

Why it matters: The U.S. and China are locked in a fierce battle, with trade restrictions already limiting Huawei's ability to sell phones around the world.

  • "We are more confident we can survive even further attacks," Ren said, appearing at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

The backdrop: Last year, the U.S. imposed a variety of restrictions that further limited Huawei's ability to do business in the U.S. as well as hampering its ability globally by limiting access to U.S. chips and software. It is also pressuring allies not to use Huawei's networking technology for their 5G systems.

  • Ren expressed optimism the tensions won't lead to a complete bifurcation of Western and Chinese technology. "Whether world will be split in two systems, I don’t think so," he said. "Science is about truth; there is only one truth. It is unique."

Meanwhile: Israeli philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, who joined the Huawei chief on stage, talked about the existential threat posed when any tech company, be it Huawei or Facebook, can know human desires better than people themselves.

  • Ren replied: "We are not sure if that can become reality. We do not rule out this possibility."

The panel included a lot of harkening back to the Cold War and the race to build the atom bomb.

  • The key difference, Harari noted, is that it was largely clear that using the technology behind the atom bomb was bad. With AI, countries may believe they are best served by actively deploying such systems.
  • Harari also pointed out that the U.S.-China tech Cold War is very close to a real arms race — the development of lethal autonomous weapons. And while both sides likely know the danger, the distrust could prompt such systems to be built.

Yes, but: Harari ended on a hopeful note, pointing out that in theory surveillance technology could be used to keep tabs on big business and government, and antivirus software could in future detect efforts to manipulate your mind.

Go deeper: Why Huawei is the United States' 5G boogeyman

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Europe feels the squeeze over Huawei

Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

European countries are caught in the middle of dueling pressure campaigns from the U.S. and China over whether to let equipment made by Chinese manufacturer Huawei into their 5G networks.

Why it matters: It's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" choice that could leave Europe alienating a major trading partner either way.

Go deeperArrowJan 22, 2020

Huawei's trial by "what if"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. critics of Huawei are ramping up a campaign to make the Chinese telecom giant a global pariah even as key American allies remain unsold on the case against the company.

Where it stands: U.S. officials and experts advocating blocking trade with Huawei lack hard evidence of Beijing-backed misdeeds, so they're asking the rest of the world to make choices based on "what if" scenarios.

Go deeperArrowJan 30, 2020

Huawei loses a round against Congress in federal court

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Huawei lost a round in court Tuesday, with a federal judge ruling that Congress was within its rights to exclude agencies and contractors from buying gear from Huawei and ZTE.

The big picture: This is one battle in the larger and more multifaceted conflict between Washington and Beijing that's playing out in courts, through trade negotiations and in public rhetoric.