Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei speaking at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos last month. Photo: Fabrice Coffreni / AFP

Billionaire businessman Ren Zhengfei was in no mood to sugarcoat his comments.

During a lengthy interview, the founder of Huawei made it crystal clear that the arrest of his daughter Meng Wanzhou was “politically motivated” in a move to “crush” the company he created.

“Firstly, I object to what the US has done. This kind of politically motivated act is not acceptable,” he said. “The US likes to sanction others, whenever there’s an issue, they’ll use such combative methods.

“We object to this. But now that we’ve gone down this path, we’ll let the courts settle it,” he added in a BBC interview.

Meng, who is also the chief financial officer of Huawei, has since been released on US$7.5-million bail after being arrested in the Canadian city of Vancouver on December 1.

But she still faces the prospect of being extradited to the United States.

Last month, the US Justice Department announced sweeping charges against the telecom giant, including bank fraud, obstruction of justice and technology theft.

Key accusations revolve around violations of US sanctions on Iran, an allegation that has also been leveled against Meng, which she has denied.

“[The] charges expose Huawei’s brazen and persistent actions to exploit American companies and financial institutions, and to threaten the free and fair global marketplace,” Christopher Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said at the end of January.

Naturally, these claims have been dismissed by Ren, who launched the high-tech infrastructure and smartphone group back in 1987 with 21,000 yuan (then US$4,400) of his own money.

Media recluse

Considered a media recluse, he even broke his protocol for privacy last month to discuss the controversy swirling around Huawei, which has become entangled in the trade war between China and the US.

“[I have] never received any request from any government to provide improper information,” Ren told the Western media in the coastal export hub of Shenzhen.

“I still love my country, I support the Communist Party, but I will never do anything to harm any country in the world,” he added.

Technology has become a key battleground in the rivalry between the world’s two largest economies and Huawei has been caught in the crossfire as the poster child of the “Made in China 2025” plan.

Apart from the Meng incident, another executive was arrested in Poland on espionage charges in January. But authorities revealed that the investigation was limited to employee Wang Weijing, who has since been fired, and not the company.

To add to the spate of negative news for Huawei, there has been intense scrutiny about cybersecurity and perceived links to Beijing’s central government. US allies such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United Kingdom are even considering restricting market access.

Again, these allegations have been denied by the group.

“The world cannot leave us because we are more advanced. Even if they [US] persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always scale things down a bit,” Ren told the BBC.

“If the lights go out in the West, the East will still shine. And if the North goes dark, there is still the South. America doesn’t represent the world. America only represents a portion of the world,” he added.

Before his interview was aired, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs waded into the row after US Vice-President Mike Pence warned about the security concerns posed by Huawei at the Munich Security Conference in Germany last week.

Claims denied

On Monday, Geng Shuang, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, denied claims that Beijing had ordered companies to violate international laws when working overseas by building “mandatory back doors” to collect data, information and intelligence.

“The United States and a few of its allies are using double standards and deliberately misleading the public on the issue,” Geng said. “They use the issue as an excuse for suppressing the legitimate development rights and interests of Chinese enterprises … using political means to intervene in economic behaviors. It’s hypocritical, immoral and unfair bullying behaviors.”

Still, accusations persist about Huawei’s close connections to Xi Jinping’s government and the lack of online freedom in the world’s second-largest economy.

Major foreign companies also feel they are being shut out of China’s tech sector by draconian regulations and forced technology transfers.

Indeed, these allegations have been raised by the US delegation during successive rounds of trade talks, which are due to resume in Washington this week, as well as other core issues in the long-running dispute.

“The Made in China 2025 initiative, has caused deep resentment among American companies and their counterparts elsewhere,” Cheng Li, the director of the John L. Thornton China Center, and Diana Liang, a research assistant at the center, wrote on the Brookings Institution website, in November.

“They have called these practices ‘state capitalism,’ in opposition to fair market competition,” they added.

Specializing in digital infrastructure, the rollout of 5G across countries involved in the grandiose Belt and Road Initiative was seen as a golden opportunity for Huawei.

Now, it looks like a potential minefield.

These ‘New Silk Road’ superhighways will connect China with 68 nations and 4.4 billion people across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe in a maze of multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure projects, including a web of digital links.

“Do we have to be worried about Huawei and other Chinese companies? Yes, I think we have to be worried,” Andrus Ansip, the European Union’s vice-president for a digital single market, said when asked about cybersecurity.

For Ren, as he keeps reiterating, this not a problem but a figment of the West’s imagination.

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