Business / Corporate

Huawei CEO voices hopes for cooperation with Japan amid U.S. dispute

by Tomoyuki Tachikawa

Kyodo

Ren Zhengfei, chief executive and founder of Huawei Technologies Co., expressed strong hope on Wednesday for cooperation with Japan, as the Chinese tech giant faces severe challenges in a prolonged technology dispute with the United States.

If China and Japan leverage each other’s strengths, “we can create great products,” Ren said in an interview with Kyodo News in Shenzhen, southern China, where the firm’s headquarters is located. The one-on-one interview was his first with a Japanese media outlet.

“China has a certain degree of system competitiveness. Japan has excellent material science and exquisite craftsmanship,” Ren said, adding, “We have invested heavily in Japan and will deepen our cooperation with Japanese companies.”

With Washington having argued that Huawei products may be facilitating spying activities by the Chinese Communist Party-led leadership, Japan — a major U.S. ally — has effectively decided to exclude the firm from government contracts.

Fears are growing that Huawei’s corporate performance could deteriorate against a backdrop of trade restrictions imposed on its products since May on national security grounds, and Ren’s remarks suggested his company is keen to boost relations with Japan.

Over recent years, China and Japan — the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 economies — have experienced a thaw in ties that had been frayed due to wartime history and territorial issues since early 2010.

The two Asian countries have been stepping up preparations for President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to Japan — expected in the spring of next year — since he came to power in 2013.

Emphasizing the importance of efforts to form a so-called free trade zone in the Eurasian continent to prop up regional and global economic growth, Ren said, “The key to this is the relationship between China and Japan.”

“I very much hope that President Xi will have a very good hug with Prime Minister Abe when he visits Japan next year,” he added.

Even as the two countries engage in a trade war, Ren said he does not expect a “new Cold War” to develop between Washington and Beijing given that China has been highly integrated into the open global economy.

“Some U.S. politicians hope that the United States will decouple its economy from China’s, but many companies do not want it because it will dampen sales. How will it be accepted?” Ren said.

“The purpose of running a business is to sell more. How can you want to sell less? As long as there are people who want to sell and people who want to buy, (U.S.-China) economic decoupling would not happen,” he said.

But Ren voiced concern that if the United States continues the restrictions for three to five years, the Chinese manufacturer could lose its “current position” as a global leader for next-generation 5G networking technology.

Ren, a former engineer in the Chinese military who founded Huawei in 1987, has acknowledged the inevitability of a future clash with his firm’s rivals in the United States and Europe since the early 2000s. He said the conflict that his firm had actually faced with the United States was “much more serious than we imagined.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to ban American companies from using telecom technology and services provided by entities considered a security threat, a move apparently countering Huawei.

Trump, who has pursued protectionist policies as part of his “America First” agenda, has also expressed wariness over China’s advances in state-of-the-art technologies, with Washington having targeted Chinese goods related to them in the ongoing tariff battle.

Ren, however, said that Huawei will be able to survive by bolstering cooperation with enterprises in Japan and Europe as well as prompting research, citing the achievements of Akira Yoshino, the Japanese winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry.

“I hope Chinese scientists like Mr. Yoshino will work tirelessly to overcome some things in 38 years, 40 or 50 years, and they will provide the most advanced elements so that we can go ahead,” he said.

As for the next phase of the recently launched 5G technology, which Huawei has started to work on developing, Ren said the so-called 6G technology will be put into use within 10 years.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5