Huawei founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei. Photo: CCTV

Huawei Technologies will not fight with the US when it succeeds at becoming one of the leaders in the fifth-generation (5G) telecommunication sector, the Shenzhen-based company’s founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei said in an interview.

“Today, we are defeated by the US. We will ski down along the ice hill a little bit but definitely climb up again,” Ren told China Central Television, describing China and the US as two armies in the 5G industry. “One day, the two armies will reach the peak. But we will not stab the US with bayonets. We will embrace them and celebrate for the success of the digital and informational world, as well as the multi-standards in the market.

“Isn’t it better for us to jointly serve mankind?” Ren said, adding that Huawei is serving for the good of mankind, not for profit or eliminating others.

CCTV interviewed Ren in the afternoon of May 21 after he met with a group of state media in the morning. The full version of the interview was published on Sunday evening.

Ren said Huawei had once prepared to be acquired by an American company for US$10 billion as its management knew clearly that the firm would have conflicts with the US one day. He said the two sides had signed a preliminary agreement but the US company’s board was changed and its new president rejected the deal.

“We then discussed internally whether to sell or not. Our younger leaders preferred not to sell but I told them if we didn’t, we would definitely lose to the US a decade later. We would be defeated by the US’s bayonets as the US was climbing up the slope with canned beef and coffee while we only had biscuits,” Ren said, adding that since then Huawei has started to prepare a “Plan B,” namely its self-supplied chipsets.

Founded by Ren in 1987, Huawei currently employs 180,000 people globally, 45% of whom are researchers and engineers. The company says it spends about 15% of its revenue on research and development. Last year, it spent $15 billion on research projects and plans to invest a total of $100 billion over the next five years in new products.

The company set up an integrated-circuit design center in Shenzhen in 1991 and turned it into a fabless semiconductor design house called HiSilicon in 2004.

Asked why Huawei had not fully utilized HiSilicon’s resources, Ren said the parent company wanted to leave some profits to its foreign partners.

“We did not want the Western firms to have their profits squeezed. We want to make friends,” he said. “We’ve avoided producing 8K TVs…. Now all Japanese and South Korean TVs are using our chips and systems.”

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Ren said Huawei employed more than 700 mathematicians, 800 physicists, 120 chemists, 6,000 other researchers and 60,000 engineers.

“We have never hired a perfect staff. A person who only chases perfection is useless and hopeless,” he said. “For example, we hired a young Russian mathematician, who didn’t have a girlfriend and had been sitting in front of his computer every day in Moscow for more than a decade. I did not know what he was doing… One day, he told me he had made a breakthrough in algorithms about 3G. We did some tests in Shanghai and knew we were leading the world in 3G.”

Ren also commented on the US-China trade war. He said the two countries were actually competing in technology and educational standards.

“There will be a huge evolution in the next two to three decades … such evolution will be scary. The US knows it very well. That’s why they suppress the outstanding Huawei,” Ren said. “However, the US misjudged the situation, as we won’t be eliminated.”

Ren said a lot of children in Chinese villages would become PhDs in the next 20 to 30 years and help contribute to China’s technology upgrade. Meanwhile, Huawei will continue to attract talents from Germany and Russia with better salary packages than they could get at home, he said.

On May 15, the US Commerce Department added Huawei to its Entity List on national-security grounds. On May 21, it granted Huawei a license to buy US goods until August 19. Huawei may have to downsize its production because of a lack of chip supply and software support from US firms, analysts say.

Richard Yu Chengdong, the chief executive of Huawei Consumer Business Group, said last week that Huawei would use its self-developed chipset and operating system. Industry experts said he was referring to the Kirin series of chips developed by HiSilicon and the Hongmeng operating system.

Ren said in a separate interview with Bloomberg on Monday that he would “protest” if Beijing retaliates against Apple Inc.

“That [Chinese retaliation against Apple] will not happen first of all, and second of all, if that happens, I’ll be the first to protest,” he said. “Apple is my teacher. It is advancing in front of us. As a student, why should I oppose my teacher? I would never do that.”

Ren Zhengfei says Apple Inc should not be a retaliation target in the trade war. Photo: Bloomberg

Read: Expert says Huawei can switch from Android in six months

Read: Huawei faces bigger threat from Google than chip ban

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