Huawei Technologies has launched a major lobbying and public-relations campaign to boost its standing with Canadians and federal decision-makers as the Chinese telecommunications giant tries to avoid being banned from supplying equipment to next-generation wireless networks.
Another key goal is to support the Shenzhen-based company’s legal effort to free Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who remains detained in Vancouver while fighting an extradition request to the United States over alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran.
At the same time, Huawei, which operates through subsidiary Huawei Canada, is trying to expand its share of this country’s smartphone market.
Huawei has hired a slew of public-relations and government-relations experts, including Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada, to help in the campaign to win over Canadians and Ottawa. Some of the people it has brought on board have worked for former Liberal or Conservative governments and also come from a wide array of businesses.
The Trudeau government is conducting a national-security review that will determine whether Canada should follow Australia, a fellow member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, in banning Huawei gear from 5G cellular infrastructure. The United States, which has been pushing allies to bar Huawei, has not formally banned the company but has said telecoms in the country have agreed not to partner with it in the 5G field. New Zealand, another member of this group, has already rejected one application to install Huawei equipment in a domestic 5G network, while Britain has not yet made a final decision on a ban.
Huawei has launched advertising spending in Canada this year – including broadcasting, social media and display ads − that will total tens of millions of dollars to promote Huawei phones, industry sources say.
The Chinese company remains a major sponsor of Hockey Night in Canada, a deal that runs through the end of 2020, and includes placement of its logo on the sets in pregame and second-intermission broadcasts, mentions of the show as "brought to you by Huawei” by on-air hosts and ad time.
Telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg said Huawei’s new full-court press makes sense given what’s at stake for the Chinese company.
“The lobbying activities and hiring people experienced in managing the government-relations side are prudent to support their ability to continue to sell” products in Canada, he said.
In April, the company recruited Alykhan Velshi, a former senior aide in Stephen Harper’s Prime Minister’s Office, for its vice-president of corporate affairs, while Michael Sangster, a former Telus government relations vice-president, is providing strategic advice.
Mr. Velshi declined to comment on PR and lobbying spending, but said the company is determined to safeguard its interests here.
“Huawei Canada has been operating here for 10 years, we have more than 1,000 employees in Canada, and last year alone we invested $180-million in Canadian R&D," Mr. Velshi said. “Huawei Canada has, and we will continue, to act to protect our employees, our customers and our investments.”
Former Blackberry government-relations executive Morgan Elliott also came on board as vice-president of government affairs for Huawei. Mr. Elliott, also previously with Shaw Communications, once worked for ministers in the governments of former prime ministers Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien.
Scott Feschuk and Scott Reid of the firm Feschuk.Reid have been retained to provide communications and public-affairs advice. Mr. Feschuk, a long-time journalist, once worked as a speechwriter for Paul Martin. Mr. Reid served as director of communications in the Prime Minister’s Office under Mr. Martin.
Huawei has also retained Crestview Strategy’s Dan Moulton and Chad Rogers, both of whom have registered in Ottawa as lobbyists for the company. Mr. Moulton previously worked at Queen’s Park in the Ontario Liberal governments of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. Mr. Rogers, a long-time Conservative, worked on former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s 2011 campaign.
Conservative MP Peter Kent said the Trudeau government should ignore any attempts by Huawei and its “hired guns” to push for acceptance of its 5G mobile technology in Canada.
New Democratic MP Nathan Cullen said Canada should ban Huawei from 5G until Beijing can demonstrate to the world that Huawei is not an arm of the Chinese Communist Party and is not being used a vehicle to spy on foreign countries. Under Chinese law, companies are required to spy for China if requested.
“Until they change the way they run companies out of China and the lack of protection of our privacy if we do business with this technology giant from China, I don’t know how hiring a bunch of powerful Liberals and Conservatives should be enough to convince Canadians that this is a good idea when it is not,” he said.
Mr. Kent criticized the Liberal cabinet for “dithering” instead of making a decision on whether to ban Huawei from participating in 5G technology.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to push a decision until after the election,” he said.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told The Globe and Mail on April 30 that the government will decide before the federal election whether to ban Huawei from Canada’s next-generation 5G wireless networks.
Mr. Goodale said a national-security review of Huawei is still under way and that he expects a cabinet decision well before Canadians go to the polls in October.
In late April, a reported leak from Britain’s National Security Council indicated that the government of Prime Minister Theresa May had decided to allow Huawei – China’s biggest private company – to play a limited role in non-core parts of Britain’s 5G network.
On a trip to London last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Washington would restrict sensitive intelligence information it shares with the British if it allows Huawei into 5G networks.
After talks with Mr. Pompeo, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain would never compromise its ability to share intelligence with the United States and insisted that no final decision had been made on Huawei and 5G.
A senior Canadian security official, who was granted anonymity by The Globe because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Canada does not want to jeopardize its intelligence-sharing arrangement with the United States. The official stressed that Canada has so far kept Huawei out of the core networks of Canadian telecoms and said that the Chinese company is not allowed to bid on Canadian government contracts.
But the same official acknowledged that 5G technology is more vulnerable to backdoor intrusions by malicious agents because there are more entry points.