Truth: The First Casualty of (Trade) War

The COVID-19 pandemic has united communities, bringing out the best in people and businesses around the world. But at a time when everyone should be uniting to support these efforts, the United States has gone so far as to attack our work to provide relief to communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Several countries where Huawei operates are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. As a global leader and good corporate citizen, we are obligated to act and to provide relief where we can. Based on decades of disaster relief experience and armed with an enormous amount of resources, we have consistently engaged in recovery efforts that are aligned with our core values.

Huawei has provided and will continue to provide unwavering support to the communities that we serve across the world. In 2011, we helped restore hundreds of base stations during the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In 2019, we provided relief to residents affected by the Venetian floods. And, today, as much of the world is clamouring for personal protective equipment, we have donated millions of masks, gloves and other medical equipment to regions in need, including the hardest-hit areas of the United States.

Despite Huawei’s efforts, critics are accusing my company of providing this relief in some cynical ploy to garner goodwill for the Chinese government. One critic even went so far as to say the only reason we could have even thought to provide a specific type of assistance in Ireland was because the China government must have instructed us to do so.

That kind of talk underestimates our close engagement with the more than 170 countries and regions in which we do business. These accusations are baseless and echo the strategy of notorious efforts by the United States to discredit rival countries and their leaders. But Huawei is a private company, not a country. Our mission is to make great information and telecommunication technology products for our customers. Yes, our headquarters is in China, but we operate globally. This fact has not slowed the years-long campaign by the U.S. government against Huawei. It is truly disconcerting that they will not even talk with us.

The U.S. government’s multi-pronged campaign to carpet bomb Huawei out of business is unprecedented against a private company.  Huawei’s proven track record of success was built, incidentally, on Western processes and governance standards. Furthermore, this assault has rocked the global information and communication technology industry.

Some journalists have told me privately that the U.S. government is using them as a conduit to present its latest anti-Huawei dossier. Take the recent campaign in Europe, led by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. It was comprised of negative media reports, loaded with myths, innuendo, misstatements and quotes from highly questionable anonymous sources. When challenged for evidence, the United States regularly hides behind the rogue shield of “that’s classified.” Most recently, regarding the allegation that Huawei installed back doors in equipment using so-called “lawful access” technology, the U.S. government said they had declassified the information, but still refused to make it public, despite calls by Huawei to do so.

In 2019 and 2020, the U.S. Justice Department brought together the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to resurface historical and unrelated legal cases, many long since settled. This was done by delivering an indictment in federal court, with theatrical production values that Broadway would be proud of, to mask the paucity of the legal allegations.

Searching for a telecom provider that the United States could deem trustworthy, and after propagating mistruths about Huawei failed, Attorney General William Barr recently suggested publicly that the United States buy two publicly traded European companies, boosting share prices by more than 10 percent. The U.S. Entity List restrictions placed on Huawei’s U.S. suppliers in May 2019 led to material declines in share values of — and profits warnings from — several U.S. listed suppliers. This activity would surely demand a Sarbanes-Oxley investigation had it been the action of bad corporate actors and not the U.S. government itself.

Now, in the spirit of “never let a crisis go to waste,” foreign policy voices are using the COVID-19 pandemic to launch new salvos of criticism on the company.

These cynical attacks are counter to Huawei’s global mission to combat this virus. European Union industry chief Thierry Breton got it right when he highlighted Huawei’s delivery of medical masks, gloves and equipment to European countries. “We will overcome this situation only if we are all together, only if solidarity will apply everywhere, solidarity first between people themselves, solidarity within a country, solidarity within a continent, solidarity between continents,” Breton told Reuters.

The governments of China and the United States are based on different political ideologies. But it bears repeating that Huawei is NOT China. It is a private company that was founded 33 years ago by Ren Zhengfei, a Chinese entrepreneur. Undoubtedly, had Mr. Ren been born in California rather than Guizhou province, he would be recognized alongside Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg for his remarkable achievements.

Why should anyone in the United States care about the fate of Huawei? After all, many Americans remain unaware of all the ways Huawei is innovating and using technology to help people and the planet, or of how Huawei has thrived in competitive marketplaces around the world. Many other nations care and prefer to make major national security and economic decisions based on fact rather than succumb to the unverified entreaties of the U.S. government.

Huawei has a critical role to play in enabling a bright economic future for our customers all around the world. Facts, truth and integrity matter in public policy. Ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus first coined the phrase “In war, truth is the first casualty” around 500 BC. It’s unlikely that he was thinking about a 21st-century geopolitical trade war at the time, but his insight leads me to closely consider his moniker, “father of tragedy.”

Andy Purdy, former director of cybersecurity at Homeland Security and White House adviser on cybersecurity, is chief security officer at Huawei Technologies USA.

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