August 4, 2020

At the epicenter of the pulse between the US and China for technological leadership | Technology

In a small artificial lake of the headquarters of the Chinese group Huawei live several families of black swans. The presence of this animal, which in corporate jargon is used to define an unexpected event that has a great impact on a company, illustrates almost perfectly the current situation of the company. Huawei sells and makes more money than ever, but the group is immersed in an unprecedented storm to have become the main battlefield between China and the United States for global technological leadership. In the work centers of Shenzhen, the city of southern China where some 40,000 people form the core of this technological giant, nothing seems to indicate that the company is experiencing one of the most complicated moments of its something more than 30 years of history. Or almost nothing, because in the details is the difference.

Two big issues have shaken the foundations of the company recently. The first, the suspicions expressed by the United States that the company uses its telecommunications equipment to help the Chinese Government to spy. Washington – which has never presented evidence on the existence of these so-called back doors – has launched a campaign for allied countries extreme precautions on Huawei at a key moment for the commercial deployment of 5G technology, which will allow you to connect practically everything and turn it into intelligent, from pipelines to trains passing through operating theaters or autonomous cars.

Huawei, the world's leading telecommunications equipment manufacturer and winner of most 5G contracts, is aware of what is at stake in this battle that affects its reputation. This journalist was invited by the company to visit his campus coinciding with the presentation of the results of the group. The company has multiplied the appearance of its senior executives before the cameras and opened the doors to new areas of its facilities to dozens of informants in recent months, within the framework of a public relations offensive to counterattack the propaganda battle that arrives from the United States, that worries about its effects between the public opinion and the clientele.

"There is a mechanism in Huawei that prevents someone from installing rear doors in our products." "Our safety standards are higher than the industry average." "The Chinese government has never asked us to stand for them and Huawei would never accept that." "The accusations of the United States are simply a way of pouring dirty water on us without any foundation." These are all statements made by Wang Jin, director of the company's Cybersecurity Laboratory, a unit made up of 137 people, independent of any other division of the company, which has the capacity to veto product launches if it considers they have security risks. This right has been exercised, he says, on up to 76 occasions in the last six years. Absolute silence reigns in their aseptic offices, and employees are urged to close their screens momentarily while the group of journalists visits the room. In the same building, Huawei customers can test the products themselves in other rooms and have access to the source codes of these devices.

Artificial lake inside the Huawei campus in Shenzhen.
Artificial lake inside the Huawei campus in Shenzhen.

Huawei is headquartered in Shenzhen, the Chinese city that has become a paradigm of the country's technological boom. They are 1.7 square kilometers of low buildings, with many green areas and a young workforce. There are free facilities for employees to practice sports (gym, pool, basketball and badminton courts, among others), numerous restaurants and even a clinic. Some of the streets next to the complex are named after famous scientists such as Graham Bell or Marie Curie, something very exceptional in a country where maps are free of proper names.

This area, however, has been too small for a company that invoices more than 95,000 million euros annually and prepares the umpteenth wave of hiring. About 40 kilometers away and next to one of its biggest factories, Huawei opened a new campus half a year ago in the city of Dongguan. The site occupies 120 hectares and is divided into 12 "villages" that are inspired by the architecture of several European cities, including Oxford, Granada, Bologna, Paris, Freiburg or Bruges. All of them are connected by a tram. There are lakes, rivers, fountains, international restaurants and perfectly preserved gardens. There already 20,000 people work, most of them in research and development tasks. 20 minutes are the production lines, which leave about 90,000 mobile phones a day. "Every day, we produce the best mobiles around the world," reads one of the banners on the site.

Image of part of the new Huawei campus in Dongguan.
Image of part of the new Huawei campus in Dongguan.

It is hard to find in any of these facilities a clear reference to the second big issue that has led Huawei to take over the headlines of half the world. It is about of the arrest in early December of Meng Wanzhou, in Canada, at the request of the United States. The vice president of the group is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of this technological giant, and the United States accuses her of to have created a business network to sell telecommunications equipment to Iran and to avoid the economic embargo on the country.

However, in the cafeterias of the campus, drinks to be served are served in a glass in which there is a lighthouse pointing to the ocean and guiding a small boat. Above, in Mandarin, the text reads as follows: "The lighthouse is waiting for an early return of the late ship." The lighthouse is, for years, one of the emblems with which the company identifies itself. And late boat is the literal translation of Wanzhou, the name of the top executive who is still in Canada waiting for his extradition to the United States.


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