Huawei spying concerns brushed aside by founder Ren Zhengfei

Huawei spying concerns have been brushed aside by its founder Ren Zhengfei, who dismissed allegations his company was involved in state-sponsored cyber espionage and quipped that the UK government even believes the Chinese networking provider is incapable of supporting wiretapping.

"We are a Chinese company, but we will never hurt another country," Huawei founder Ren said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Huawei has found itself embroiled in cyber security concerns coming from the US government, with a US congressional committee declaring in 2012 that Huawei was a security threat because of its alleged ties to the Chinese government. In the UK a number of government departments in Whitehall removed Huawei video conferencing equipment amid fears that it could be bugged, just months after the national security adviser published a report urging the government to keep a watchful eye on the firm's Cyber Evaluation Centre in Banbury.

Ren's reputation as a mysterious individual and someone who rarely gives interviews has not helped the matter.

But earlier today Ren opened up about the networking provider's business, and his stance on cyber espionage - explaining that Huawei simply "builds the pipes" which power the internet.

"Why would I want to take someone's data Who would give me money for it" he asked.

"We just do the iron coating to the pipes. What else can this iron coating do This iron coating is simple-minded. Huawei is also simple-minded."

Ren added that Huawei had never received a request from the Chinese government asking it to spy on the US.

Huawei's technology is deeply embedded in the UK's telecoms infrastructure following the Shenzhen-headquartered firm's a deal in 2005 with BT to provide parts for its extensive broadband network, but Ren claimed that when the company received a security audit in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron's government complained that Huawei's security measures were naive and that Huawei was incapable of supporting cyber espionage.

"You're not even aware about these wiretapping things, you're own networks aren't even secure," Ren recalled UK authorities stating.

Ren also addressed his reputation as a mysterious founder, and said people expect too much of him, believing he knows everything about Huawei's business.

"I don't understand technology, or finances, or management," he said, describing his role as simply a passenger on board a driving car. "They think I'm responsible for it all, but if you ask me a question, I won't be able to give you an answer."

Huawei, founded in 1987, has grown to become one of China's largest technology firms, and produces smartphones and enterprise systems in addition to its networking equipment business.

US officials, however, have feared that its networking gear could contain secret surveillance equipment from the Chinese government. Ren himself served as an engineer in China's People's Liberation Army before retiring in 1983.

In response, Huawei has always denied any ties to the Chinese government, and insists it is a private company.

Despite the security claims against Huawei, the Chinese company did receive some vindication later, when former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked that the US government had been secretly spying on China. This allegedly included creating backdoors into Huawei products, and even spying on Huawei executives.

This morning, however, Ren said that he felt the US had never treated Huawei poorly. He even hopes his company can learn from the country on how to achieve greater "openness".

Ren added that many still misunderstand Huawei, thinking it had inside help to achieve its growth, or represents a business threat. "But as long as we work hard, our identity will be proved," he said.

Additional reporting by Michael Kan of the IDG News Service in Beijing


Edward Qualtrough

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