Huawei chairman Guo Ping urges UK to defend free trade and globalisation

Guo Ping is confident that Huawei's supply of chips from Arm will survive the US trade ban and has called for the UK to embrace an open tech ecosystem

mr.guoping photo
© Huawei

Huawei's status as the world’s largest telecom equipment maker in the world and the second-biggest smartphone vendor is under strain from a US-led clampdown on the company.

In May, the Trump administration banned American companies from selling their technology to Huawei and 68 related companies, threatening the future of key suppliers from Arm chips to Android apps. The White House cited concerns that Huawei equipment could be used by China for surveillance, but critics argue it is a thinly veiled attempt to preserve American techno-hegemony.  

Caught in a geopolitical tug of war between China and America, the UK government has remained equivocal about the issue as it seeks to balance security and alliances against a dependence on Huawei technology in its 5G infrastructure.

In a roundtable with UK press in Executive Training Center J3 of Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters, the company’s rotating chairman Guo Pin has called for the UK to spurn the retreat to protectionism.

“Looking to the future, Huawei will continue to embrace and enhance our partnerships with different players to jointly develop an ecosystem that creates shared success," he said.

“I hope the UK can play a bigger role in that journey. I believe that the results of our joint R&D initiatives in the UK will be widely used across Huawei's products and solutions, which will be deployed in countries and regions across the globe.

“The UK has been a founding member and a supporter of the global free trade system. I believe that the UK will continue to firmly support and benefit more from free trade in the future.”

Overcoming bars

The US trade ban could limit Huawei's ability to work with chipmaker Arm, whose designs play an integral role in Huawei's' Kunpeng computing platform, Kirin CPUs and Ascend AI computing platform. In May, the BBC reported that the UK-based company had told staff it must suspend business with Huawei as its designs contain “US origin technology."

Guo's appeal targets the UK's companies as well as its government.

huawei roundtable © Huawei

The UK tech press roundtable with Guo was part of Huawei's concerted efforts to boost its business in Britain. Image credit: Huawei

Chinese companies have thus far been slower to develop chips than their rivals from the US, South Korea and Taiwan. The potential restrictions on sales from Arm and American suppliers Qualcomm, Nvidia and Intel could force China to more strongly pursue a homegrown semiconductor industry.

Huawei already has its own semiconductor design company in HiSilicon, but the subsidiary's integrate circuits are based on Arm architecture. Guo nonetheless declared that Huawei has no plans to create its own chips entirely in-house.

“We have never considered closing ourselves off and independently developing a completely in-house system. Instead, we always want our systems to be open, advanced, and able to create value for all of humanity," he said.

“We will continue to develop our systems on top of Arm's architecture, and maintain our partnership with Arm. We always respect the contributions Arm made to the initial development of the architecture, and we pay for the use of related intellectual property. I believe this is a reasonable cooperation model for shared success."

Guo assured Huawei customers that the partnership with Arm will continue.

“Huawei has been granted a permanent license for the Arm architecture, and no matter what happens in the future, Huawei will fully support Arm's instruction sets,” he said.

Mobile movements

The future role of Arm in Huawei products may be secure for now, but the trade embargo has already deprived the Chinese company of access to Google apps and services.

As a result, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro that was launched last week will not ship with the likes of Play Store, Gmail and Google Maps, while in the UK, EE and Vodafone have pulled Huawei phones from their 5G launches.

There has also been more positive news for Huawei phones. Three and Sky Mobile have confirmed that they will offer the devices as part of their 5G rollouts, and owners of current Huawei smartphone can continue to use Google apps and download updates.

“For existing users, their continued use of Huawei equipment will not be affected as it's legally protected," said Guo. "For new smartphones that we are going to launch, if we cannot get access to applications from the US, Huawei will take a responsible attitude and work with the relevant parties to come up with the right solution.

"In such a situation, we encourage UK companies to develop more applications so local users can have more choices. As far as I know, there are a lot of applications that cater to local needs in Japan, South Korea, France, Russia, and China. I really hope UK companies working on application development will catch up."

Huawei is already creating an alternative application ecosystem. In August, Huawei unveiled its proprietary Harmony operating system. Harmony will initially be used for IoT devices, but it could in future provide a potential alternative to Android.

Then at the Huawei Connect conference in Shanghai last week, the company announced that it would invest $1.5 billion in its Developer Program over the next five years, with the aim of swelling its ranks from 1.3 million software developers to 5 million.

“Both our computing platform and HarmonyOS need support from a vast number of industry partners. So we're willing to do everything we can to support our partners and develop an ecosystem," said Guo.

“We have made our operating systems open source so that our technology is available to everyone ... On top of that, we are giving sufficient funding to attract and encourage more developers to use Huawei technology and to build an ecosystem."

New borders

Openess and internationalism were become recurring motifs of Guo's comments and the themes are reflected across Huawei's base in Shenzhen.

Near the opulent building where we meet Guo is a 5G showroom ensconced in a grand building of marbled staircases, red carpet and golden cupolas inspired by Moscow’s Grand Kremlin Palace.

Another 70 kms north of the Huawei headquarters is a new R&D campus comprised of 12 “towns” modeled on European cities, which between them can accommodate 25,000 workers. The global inspiration extends to Window of the World, a Shenzhen theme park of replica tourist attractions where visitors can globe trot from the Sydney Opera House to St Mark's Square in Venice.

A palace for huaweis research unit inspired by the heidelberg castle in germany.jpg © Thomas Macaulay

A palace for Huawei's research unit, inspired by the Heidelberg castle in Germany. Image credit: Thomas Macaulay

Shenzhen’s meteoric growth helps explain the city’s search for inspiration overseas. The Chinese government’s 1979 decision to make the area a special economic zone (SEZs) for more free-market orientated policies have transformed it from a fishing community of 30,000 people into a high-tech and high-rise metropolis of 13 million residents – and China’s richest city. Its rapid rise produced the expression "Shenzhen Speed" and led the city to embrace foreign influences. The celebration of globalisation extends to Huawei's emphasis on open internationalism as an alternative to the re-emergence of nationalism in the west. 

Guo believes that mulinational digital companies don't need the US to create a global ecosystem. He notes that Arm cofounder Dr Hermann Hauser shares similar views, pointing to a recent interview in which Hauser argued that "the solution is to design out American IP and stand on our own two feet unless we want to become vassals to the ESG (Extremely Stable Genius) as Trump describes himself.”

"Since May of this year, an international superpower has been using every tool at its disposal to crack down on us," said Guo. "Despite that, we have still maintained solid growth and we are confident that we will survive and thrive. Thanks to our multi-path, multi-source approach to business and also our global partnerships, we have ensured supply continuity of all of our mainstay products."

Domestic developments

The UK is yet to confirm whether it will restrict Huawei's future role in its 5G infrastructure. In April, the National Security Council (NSC) agreement to restrict Huawei’s access to non-core aspects of its 5G such as antennas was leaked to the press, leading to the firing of then-defence secretary Gavin Williamson. Three months later, Parliament's Science & Technology Committee concluded that there were no “technical grounds” to entirely exclude Huawei from the country's 5G networks, but added that working with the company could "jeopardise this country’s ongoing co-operation with our major allies."

Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan told the BBC in August that she hoped the government "could do something by the autumn".

Guo dismisses the US government's national security concerns in his plea for the UK to continue its relationship with Huawei.

"I've recently read a book by Nassim Taleb, who also wrote The Black Swan and Antifragile. In this book, Mr. Taleb asked whether globalisation has been humanity's attempt to build a Tower of Babel," he said.

"Likewise, I believe that China, the UK, and many other countries should reinforce communication, and work together to further drive globalisation."

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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