Huawei’s Soft Power Charm Offensive

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 2/25/2019 03:51:00 PM
With the United States portraying Chinese telecommunications gear manufacturer Huawei as the devil incarnate seeking to infiltrate the rest of the world, a Huawei pushback was perhaps inevitable. But the question is, how exactly do you counter the American accusations of large-scale PRC espionage being facilitated by this seller of telecoms equipment? It appears that tactics differ based on the audience in question.

Canada, where the Huawei CFO has been detained by officials for violating US-led sanctions on Iran, is receiving ads that refrain from suggesting anything unusual is going on with Canada-PRC relations (like, say, putting Canadian citizens on death row in retribution). Soft power it is, then:
As a nasty diplomatic feud deepens between the two countries over the tech company, involving arrests and execution orders, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Huawei’s bright red fan-shaped logo is plastered prominently on the set of “Hockey Night in Canada.” TV hosts regularly remind the 1.8 million weekly viewers that program segments are “presented by Huawei smartphones.”

The cheery corporate message contrasts with the standoff over the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant. In what looks like retaliation, China detained two Canadians and plans to execute a third — heavy-handed tactics that, because they leave some Canadians with the impression the privately owned company is an arm of the Chinese government, give its sponsorship a surreal quality.
What's at stake here commercially speaking is substantial, and is no less than the future of technology. Huawei is advanced in the manufacture of 5G gear that will undergird the next generation of telecoms equipment. However, the United States is trying to convince everyone else that it's a "Trojan horse" for china's Communist Party to infiltrate global networks for sinister purposes.

Hence, the public relations contest is ramping up:
The TV deal is one of many examples of how Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom gear producer and one of the top smartphone makers, has embarked on a global push to win consumers and burnish its brand. It sponsors Australian rugby, funds research at universities around the world, and brings foreign students to China for technical training. It has promoted classical music concerts in Europe and donated pianos to New Zealand schools.

Its efforts are now threatened by the dispute with Canada and U.S. accusations that it could help China’s authoritarian government spy on people around the world. “Huawei’s marketing plan up until Dec. 1 (when Meng was arrested) was working very well,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China. Now, “public opinion is changing toward China and Huawei.”

At stake for Huawei are lucrative contracts to provide new superfast mobile networks called 5G. The U.S. says Meng helped break sanctions and accuses Huawei of stealing trade secrets. It also says the company could let the Chinese government tap its networks, which in the case of 5G would cover massive amounts of consumer data worldwide. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed that point to European allies on a tour this week.
5G is a challenge to American technological dominance; that much is apparent from the alarm raised by US government officialdom. What I would like to know, though, is the alternative proposed by the Yanks. How can the rest of the world meet their technology upgrading needs with non-Huawei (or ZTE for that matter) gear? Are there other European, American or non-Chinese Asian suppliers they recommend instead? It seems to me that this round of technological upgrading from the American standpoint is not so much about the benefits on offer but about bashing manufactures from a particular nation. That is, the framing is almost entirely negative about the downsides of buying Chinese without identifying upsides of not doing so.

It's in this respect where Huawei can accentuate the positives for 5G adoption and contrast such a message with the relentlessly dour American vision of technological apocalypse. After all, soft power is about persuading through attraction instead of (obtuse) threats the Yanks are brandishing nowadays.