To understand China’s distant past, Sean Yang suggests you visit his hometown of Xian, where an army of ancient terracotta warriors was unearthed in the 1970s.
For insight into the world-altering changes of China’s past 30 years, he suggests you stop by the vibrant city of Shenzhen, the country’s first and most successful “special economic zone,” where China’s leaders first started experimenting with the free-market measures that kick-started China’s export-oriented economy – and led to China’s rise.
For a glimpse into the future of the world’s second-largest economy, it’s worth a trip to the sprawling global headquarters of Mr. Yang’s powerful employer, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., a massive Chinese telecommunications company that hauled in $32-billion (U.S.) in revenue last year and now has more than 140,000 employees around the world.
One of China’s only non-state-owned multinational success stories, Shenzen-based Huawei has upended the existing order of old-world telecommunications equipment makers such as Ericsson. But as the company continues to find success in a startlingly broad range of industries from network equipment and surveillance to smartphones and tablets, Mr. Yang and the company’s other overseas emissaries are frequently forced to grapple with intense suspicion from the West over Huawei’s rise.
In many ways, Mr. Yang personifies Huawei’s ascent from rural China to contracts with Bell Canada and in red-hot global telecom markets such as India. But he is also a helpful guide to the dim sum menu at the Shangri-la Banquet Hall in Markham, Ont., near Huawei Canada’s headquarters. He changed the venue at the last minute, deeming this restaurant the best place for dim sum in Markham, which many of Toronto’s Chinese residents, including Mr. Yang, call home (his wife and two children still live in China).
Together, we select shrimp and mushroom dumplings, a curried soup of fish balls, congee, bean-curd-skin rolls and a vegetable dish. “I was even invited to make a video for Markham, and to recommend Markham as the best place to invest,” says Mr. Yang, who is Huawei’s president in Canada, where the firm has more than 400 employees. “I said, ‘Welcome to Markham, because they have the best Chinese food!’ ”
But even as he rolls out the welcome mat for Markham – and much of the world, including Canada, does the same for Huawei – Mr. Yang and his company have been forced to deal with seemingly unending setbacks in the United States.
There, in one of the world’s most valuable telecom markets, lawmakers concerned about economic espionage and cybersecurity have repeatedly tarred Huawei as a Chinese Trojan horse that imperils U.S. interests – derailing attempted acquisitions and making big American wireless companies some of the only private sector actors around the globe hesitant to work with Huawei. (About 45 of the world’s 50 biggest carriers do business with Huawei, but Australia and Canada have both barred the company from bidding on certain government projects considered critical infrastructure.)
Some suspicion is unsurprising, perhaps, for a company whose founder was an engineer in the People’s Liberation Army. But in early October, the United States made plain its distrust: A report by two senior members of the powerful U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said that Huawei – as well as ZTE Corp., another Chinese telecom – represented a serious risk to U.S. national security. The intelligence community “must remain vigilant and focused on this threat,” the report says.
The panel behind the 11-month probe said it received “multiple, credible reports” from former and current Huawei employees about several potential violations by company officials, including alleged “immigration violations, bribery and corruption” – and recommended the company’s products be excluded from U.S. government computer systems.
There has always been a certain amount of mystery around Huawei, one of the very few private companies to find global success in the land of state-owned enterprises. We speak about the report several times over the course of a lunch that lasts more nearly two hours.