Bruised and battered by US sanctions over security and espionage concerns, and forced to abide by Xi Jinping’s bizarre new social and business crackdowns, telecom giant Huawei landed a major executive this week.
And, this, my friends, is a big fish. One that will certainly add credibility to the brand.
According to The Telegraph, former senior BBC News executive, Gavin Allen, has joined the Chinese company as the firm battles regulatory hurdles and seeks to boost its image after its CFO, Meng Wanzhou, admitted wrongdoing in a major fraud case.
Allen, most recently head of news programming at BBC, posted on LinkedIn saying he was “delighted” to be joining the Chinese company as “Executive Editor in Chief,” without specifying his responsibilities in the new role.
The UK government has banned British telecoms firms from buying equipment from Huawei, ordering them to strip their networks of the Chinese company’s kit by 2027 over security and espionage concerns.
Under heavy diplomatic and economic pressures from the US and the Five Eyes intelligence group, countries including Australia, Sweden, and Japan have instituted similar bans against using Huawei gear, including for 5G networks.
Canada, whose prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is a blatant supporter of China (much to the chagrin of the Pentagon and many Canadians), is expected to issue a decision in the next few weeks.
Other nations have not taken a public stance though have chosen to work with rivals Nokia and Ericsson instead.
Allen led the BBC news output for seven years before starting at Huawei, Verdict.co.uk reported.
He was in charge of many of the UK’s most influential news programs, including the Today program, the 6 and 10 o’clock TV news, Question Time, the BBC News channel, The Andrew Marr Show and Breakfast TV.
He was also part of the upper management of the BBC, “as a core member of the News Board and a member of the pan-BBC Senior Executive Group.”
He also said that he had studied Chinese history and is “falteringly learning Mandarin.”
“Now hugely proud to be part of a world-class ICT organisation which truly values collaboration and innovation: a creative force for good. And no excuses now for not improving that Mandarin…” Allen added.
The former BBC chief is a Cambridge graduate and public schoolboy (that is, he attended an expensive fee-paying independent school, in his case Oundle School in Northamptonshire).
Huawei has spent millions of dollars on public relations and lobbying efforts, with founder Ren Zhengfei saying recently that the firm would focus more on foreign hires.
Allen received between £185,000 and £189,999 (US$249,400 to US$256,250) for the 2020/21 financial year from the BBC, according to his page on the company’s website.
“We must open our minds, emancipate our minds and dare to attract the best talents in the world,” Ren said, adding that the company was at a critical point of strategic survival and development, hinting at the disruption caused by US trade sanctions and its exclusion from 5G rollouts in many Western nations.
“To be in line with international standards and to attract the best talent, salary standards must be higher than in each individual country,” he added.
Ironically, last year the BBC World News was taken off the air in China after the UK revoked the broadcasting license for the Chinese state-backed English language network CGTN in February.
China’s foreign minister issued a statement justifying the BBC’s removal, accusing the network of pushing “fake news” in its Covid-19 reporting. Subsequently, Beijing demanded an apology and said that the broadcaster had politicized the pandemic and “rehashed theories about covering up by China.”
Another recent hire that made international headlines was that of renowned French mathematician Laurent Lafforgue.
Lafforgue is a winner of the 2002 Fields Medal, known as the Nobel Prize of mathematics, which was presented by then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin at the 24th International Congress of Mathematicians held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
The academic, known for his work in number theory, is expected to work at Huawei’s research centre in Paris.
The company has been embroiled in major diplomatic spats. Western governments have for years expressed concerns that the firm would pose a security risk given its apparent close ties to the Chinese government.
The Chinese government has also intervened many times on Huawei’s behalf, most notably in a recent prisoner swap regarding CFO Meng Wanzhou.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver in 2018 on a US extradition request to face fraud charges linked to Washington’s sanctions against Iran.
Within days, two Canadians – Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig – were detained by Chinese authorities, later alleging espionage charges.
Western governments accused China of hostage diplomacy and arbitrarily detaining the two men, who were tried in secret.
Developments in Meng’s case were followed closely by moves against the “two Michaels,” as the pair came to be known.
After she recently reached a deal with US prosecutors and admitted wrongdoing, Meng was allowed to return home to China about a week ago.
Beijing then promptly released the Two Michaels after 1,020 days in detention, a move that experts say made clear that the Chinese government had purposefully used the detentions to squeeze the Trudeau government.
Mysteriously, upon their return to Calgary, the pair were met by CSIS intelligence agents, and, the prime minister himself, apparently incommunicado, leading some to speculate if Spavor and Kovrig were spooks, after all.
By the end of 2020, Huawei had 197,000 employees worldwide, spanning 162 different countries, according to GlobalData’s Intelligence Center.
Sources: The Telegraph, Verdict.co.uk, Yahoo! News