Huawei Canada maintains a dossier of people it calls “key opinion leaders” in this country who it believes could help the Chinese telecom equipment maker in its campaign to stop extradition proceedings against top executive Meng Wanzhou and avoid being banned from 5G mobile networks in Canada.
The list of the key influencers, obtained by The Globe and Mail, has been sent to the headquarters of parent company Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, which has shared it with the Chinese government, according to a source. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss internal Huawei matters.
Huawei Canada’s public affairs and communication department prepared the dossier, and it lists and provides profiles of 30 former politicians, university professors, lawyers and business people who the documents say “have made relatively positive comments or provided valuable information on Huawei’s brand image, Huawei products, and the controversial affairs involving Huawei.”
Not all of these figures have offered explicitly pro-Huawei commentary, but the company appears to value their contribution to the debate.
Included on the Huawei list is Pascale Massot, a University of Ottawa professor who is on leave to serve as a senior adviser on Asia Pacific matters to Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne. Prof. Massot is among those who say there is an overriding need to stay engaged with China rather than confronting it or breaking ties. “The current dominant narrative depicting China as a threat to the global order creates a hunkering down mentality,” she wrote in a paper last year.
Among the high-profile opinion leaders identified as helpful to Huawei are former Quebec premier Jean Charest, former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day, and Eddie Goldenberg, who was a top aide to prime minister Jean Chrétien, as well as academic Wesley Wark, who served on Canada’s Advisory Council on National Security from 2005-09.
Mr. Goldenberg has urged the Canadian government to free Ms. Meng in exchange for the release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who China locked up in apparent retaliation after the Huawei executive was arrested at the Vancouver International Airport on an extradition request from the United States. Mr. Charest was hired as a consultant to Huawei in the Meng extradition case and the tech giant’s efforts to sell its equipment to Canadian telecommunications companies for their 5G wireless networks.
The dossier ranks the opinion leaders by how helpful their commentary is for Huawei, as well as the degree of their “media exposure.” The documents also show the company assigns staff to cultivate relations with politicians, business leaders, academics and journalists.
Prof. Wark, along with University of British Columbia professor Paul Evans, and Wenran Jiang, formerly a senior fellow at UBC’s Institute of Asian Research, are ranked high on the list of opinion leaders.
Alykhan Velshi, vice-president of corporate affairs for Huawei Canada, would not discuss the internal documents, but said the Chinese telecom is acting no differently than Western companies.
“Like every major corporation and many not-profits, Huawei routinely monitors pertinent issues and prominent voices that hold the potential to influence its operations and its future. This is common practice and common sense across the business world,” he said. “Like other major corporations, we don’t publicly discuss these details.”
Mr. Jiang, who is also a consultant, delivered six hours of lectures last week to Huawei Canada executives and staff on the history of the rise of China and its treatment and mistreatment by foreign powers, as well as the impact of the Meng arrest on relations between the Chinese and Canadians. “They could not colonize China. … They could not convert China. … They could not beat China,” one slide from his lecture says. “Facing a rising China, which will soon become the largest economy, there is a call to contain China, to make sure China will not be a dominant power and that China’s ‘one-party dictatorship’ must not be a threat to Western democracy and way of life.”
Mr. Jiang noted in his lecture that the Canadian government is “taking a more cautious approach” to China since Ms. Meng’s arrest, but predicted things would change should the Conservative Party replace the Liberals in Ottawa, given its more hawkish leaning.
Mr. Jiang said he was not aware Huawei had ranked him as a key opinion leader, and said he was not paid to make the presentation last week. While Huawei has paid him in the past for advice, he said that “was a long time ago” and has no influence on his commentary about Ms. Meng, Huawei and China.
"I have been making a lot of comments on a range of issues nowadays and before; I don’t think that should be related to any of my consulting work,” he said.
Prof. Evans, Mr. Jiang and Prof. Wark toured the company’s Ottawa-area research and development centre in the spring of 2019, Huawei documents say. Afterward Prof. Wark wrote an e-mail to one executive offering strategic advice on how the company could better “tell its story” to Canadians and respond to national security concerns expressed publicly in Canada about Huawei.
Mr. Jiang and Prof. Evans also journeyed to Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters to meet company founder Ren Zhengfei, the father of Ms. Meng, in the spring of 2019.
Prof. Wark suggested in his recommendations that Huawei highlight its research partnerships with universities, its past work with Canadian telecommunications companies such as BCE Inc. and Telus Communications Inc. and explain how it can deliver security for 5G networks.
“My feeling is that Huawei Canada will ultimately succeed or fail in terms of winning Canadian hearts and minds to the extent it develops a distinctive Canadian identity, demonstrates that it behaves as a Canadian company in terms of the laws and regulations, and shows that it is good for the Canadian economy and Canadian economic security,” he advised Huawei in the e-mail.
Prof. Wark told The Globe on Monday that he found it “extremely surprising” that he was on the list of key opinion leaders when all he has done is urge the company to be more open with Canadians about the “charges being levelled against them by various quarters about their role in espionage particularly."
“I have no relationship with Huawei, have never done any commissioned work for them ... and have never lobbied formally or informally on their behalf," he said. “I am always happy to provide people with advice and I am always happy to talk to the media about my views about Huawei and it doesn’t really go beyond that.”
Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that has not taken action to ban Huawei from its 5G networks or curtail its participation. The United States, Britain and Australia have blocked Huawei from 5G networks, and New Zealand rejected one proposal to build a 5G network with Huawei gear.
The U.S. and Australian governments say Huawei answers to China’s ruling Communist Party and could be compelled to help Beijing spy on or sabotage Western networks. Article 7 of China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law says Chinese companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work” when asked.
U.S. authorities accuse Ms. Meng and other Huawei executives of lying to banks so that they would clear transactions with Iran through the United States despite U.S. sanctions.
Another person listed as a key opinion leader in Huawei’s dossier is Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland. Internal Huawei Canada e-mails obtained by The Globe indicate the company highly values the comments he has made in interviews and television commentary that appear to indicate he believes flaws in arrest process will cause the case against her to fail.
One company executive wrote in 2019 to Huawei colleagues that he believed Mr. Kurland is “100 per cent on board” with helping the company.
“He wants to do as much media as possible on Meng as a legal [key opinion leader],” the executive said.
Mr. Kurland said he was expressing his own legal views and has not received any financial benefit from Huawei. He disputed that he agrees 100 per cent with Huawei’s legal arguments in the Meng case.
“I am not a shill. Certainly not,” Mr. Kurland said. “As soon as I heard about the arrest and as soon as I heard what unfolded in the arrest and [the Canada Border Service Agency] examination [of Ms. Meng], my views crystallized ... and whomever wants to listen to me, the door is open.”
Internal company documents also reveal a detailed public engagement campaign that includes assigning Huawei Canada executives and staff to build relationships with Canadian business people, academics, political figures and journalists.
The documents indicate that, for instance, Huawei senior public affairs director Chris Pereira was assigned to deal with Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, and Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty. Huawei Canada vice-president of public affairs and communications Steve Liu was given Mr. Day, who until recently sat on the board of Telus and advocated against a 5G ban on Huawei.
The documents show that detailed records are also kept on company contacts with Canadian journalists, including names and whether the meeting included drinks or dinner. The tracking includes the subjects discussed in what are described internally as off-the-record conversations on Ms. Meng’s extradition trial and 5G developments.
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