“…when substantive and informed experts suggested something that should be done, it filtered way up into some Mandarin star chamber and came back as something we didn’t recognize.”William Plummer, former vice-president in Huawei’s Washington office
One of the great challenges on global matters of crisis or opportunity is culture. We all assume that the culture we grew up in is the lens that should be applied in foreign markets. We are as guilty of it at American companies expanding globally as foreign companies are in moving into America or Europe. I don’t pretend that any of this is easy. And for Huawei, with its historical ties to the Chinese government and military, the breakdown in US-Chinese relations, and the leaked documents this morning of their potential involvement with North Korea in violation of U.S. export controls, the challenges are significant.
But there are pathways the company is not taking; opportunities they are not leveraging. They hire and fire communications companies when advice requires sacrifice and doesn’t include magic; they spend such a comparatively small sum on lobbyists in Washington that simply knowing the total makes it clear to any Member of Congress that the company is not serious yet. They claim transparency and then refuse to take questions from journalists. Huawei has strong cyber security, economic, legal, and political arguments to make, and they have many allies who would echo them, but so far, they aren’t making them or letting their American surrogates chime in. Economically, Huawei may not need the American market, but politically, they don’t need it to inhibit their global expansion.
When you spend time in Beijing, you are taken by how much it can feel like Washington, DC. The path forward really could feel less foreign to Huawei if they are prepared for the opportunity.
In an article this week in the South China Morning Post, US Correspondent Mark Magnier interviewed a number of us in communications and public affairs to provide the playbook for Huawei and other Chinese companies.