August 20, 2019
Joe McDonald: Thank you, Mr. Ren, for seeing us. We understand you're very busy, so thank you for giving us this time.
Ren: I'm also very glad to see you, because you are giving us an opportunity to share our situation with a wider audience.
01 Joe McDonald: Last night in Washington, the US government announced it's going to postpone this Entity List by 90 days. May we ask your reaction to this? What difference will this 90-day extension mean to Huawei? You know, how much does the company still need the American products and components that will be affected by this Entity List?
Ren: This is a good thing. Both sides need to think it over cool-headedly though.
First of all, the US should weigh in on which party stands to lose more: Huawei or the US companies. They really need to do their research and then consider whether to keep us on the Entity List.
I am always an advocate of globalization. This is because globalization enables optimal allocation of resources and stands a better chance of delivering high quality services to customers around the world. The globalization we have achieved today was hard won through decades of collaborative efforts. A further divided market is not in the best interests of the US, because the US is currently the world's most powerful country and has the biggest vested interest in the global tech sector.
Second, whether the temporary license is extended will not have too significant an impact on Huawei. From 5G products to core networks, we can do well without relying on the US. Yesterday, you must have seen our whole series of products that no longer contain US components. We need a short period of time to switch over and ensure run-in of these newly designed circuit boards. Following that run-in period, our production capacity will soar.
The biggest impact of the Entity List would be on our consumer business. There are billions of Android system users around the world. Banning Huawei from using this system will not ensure the US's national security. If the US still wants to ban us from Android, we may need to work on our own backup plan. Google is a great company and we have signed many agreements with them in good faith over the years. We want to continue using their products. If we are allowed to do so, we are more than willing to help extend the use of this US technology around the world. But if Google or Microsoft cannot continue to provide their systems to Huawei, then it is possible that there will have to be a third system to replace theirs. No one can be certain that this third system will fail. If this system does succeed, it will pose a big threat to the US.
What's happened over the last few months has proven that the Entity List won't crush us. Huawei can definitely survive and thrive. Is this what they wanted when they added us to this Entity List? They might not get what they wanted. China and other countries will produce alternatives. In the future, US products may not be able to enter markets using these alternatives. If this happens, their market size will shrink, which will weaken their financial performance. We don't want to provoke confrontation. We still want to buy US components, despite the fact that we can mass produce alternatives ourselves. We want to reduce our own production and buy from the US, because we want to contribute to the prosperity of humanity together with the US companies.
02 Joe McDonald: You've been talking to foreign reporters a lot this year. For a long time you did not talk to reporters. I assume that your goal in talking to reporters this year is to repair Huawei's reputation abroad and to improve operating conditions in the face of this pressure from the United States. Do you think it's working? Do you think conditions are improving for Huawei? Do you think you're repairing your reputation?
Ren: Your analysis is pretty much correct. I came forward to show who we really are during this time of crisis. When the US added Huawei to the Entity List in May, most people, including those from the media and other companies, thought Huawei was doomed. Some believed that Huawei would survive for more than two or three months, and that when our current inventory was used up, Huawei would collapse. As I met with more and more media outlets, many believed I was just trying to conceal how poorly prepared we were. Over the past six months, roughly 2,000 journalists have visited our campuses. When they saw how Huawei was actually doing, they came to realize that Huawei is still alive and its productivity is increasing. In the beginning, media coverage of Huawei was very negative, but then it started to improve slowly, and now it is almost good. This shows that what we have been doing has worked. If I were to only speak with the media, and not allow you guys to see firsthand how we are doing, I don't think our credibility would be very high.
03 Ken Moritsugu: I want to ask going back to your daughter's detention in Canada in December and then coming through the six or seven months of this year and the tensions with the US on trade and the Entity List. In your time running Huawei, is this the biggest crisis you've felt as a company? Or have there been other crises in the past that you would say similar?
Ren: Actually, there have often been crises over the last 30 years. If it's not this crisis, then it's that crisis. Sometimes a particular crisis would be big enough to endanger our very survival. The crisis created by the US was a big blow to us, but its impact has not been too significant. In the past, we had no talent, technology, capital, or market share, and we had no clue whether we could survive the next day. Those crises might have been more severe than the one we are facing today. Regarding this current crisis, we are likely to overcome it, because our business has grown to a certain scale and we have developed our capabilities. Therefore, I don't think this is too scary.
04 Joe McDonald: President Trump has suggested that he might go easy on Huawei or drop the Entity List and also that he might improve conditions for your daughter Meng Wanzhou, if the Chinese government agrees to make some trade agreement with the United States. What's your reaction to this? Do you think Huawei is just a pawn or bargaining chip in this? How do you feel about the American President talking about your company this way?
Ren: It sounds like a good idea if this pawn can help solve the problem between the two countries. However, I will not push the Chinese government to make concessions for the benefit of Huawei, because trade is something governments should handle, not businesses. Despite the current US campaign against Huawei, we still have sufficient funds to help us get through the difficulty. Many people in China are still very poor. So as a matter of conscience, I could not accept it if the government had to sacrifice the interests of those poor people for the benefit of Huawei. I would rather withstand attacks for a couple more years and my daughter to suffer more, than let China concede something to the US for Huawei's benefit. In fact, the US should realize the standard of living for many people in China is still very low.
So I will never ask the Chinese government to make concessions so that the US would go easier on us. If the US does not ease up, Huawei might grow slower and Meng Wanzhou might have to stay longer in Canada and suffer more. But I would rather accept this because it is in the interests of China and the Chinese people. If the Chinese government makes many sacrifices for Huawei's survival, I would feel indebted to the country.
If some people in the US say, "Ren Zhengfei can spend some money to improve the situation for Huawei", they are right. That is something I might consider. If some people in the US say our 5G technology poses a threat to the US's national security, then I'm open to discussing the possibility of transferring our 5G technologies and production techniques to US companies. Then they can develop their 6G based on our 5G and speed up the process of their technological development. I'm open to all of these possibilities because we will sacrifice our own interests instead of the interests of the Chinese people. Otherwise, people will curse at me on the street.
05 Joe McDonald: You mentioned people who say that Huawei or 5G might be a security threat. What additional things can Huawei do? Or what additional things is Huawei planning to do to reassure the United States and Australia and other governments that its technology is safe, is not a threat in order to gain access to their 5G markets?
Ren: I think if the US and Australia haven't been convinced that 5G is nothing more than an advanced tool and if they still have security concerns, maybe it's best for them not to buy Huawei's 5G technologies or products. They can decide whether to buy from us after all the other countries have proven our products pose no threats. By doing this, they will not feel as worried. I personally see 5G as just a tool to support the future adoption of artificial intelligence. So the tool itself is not a security concern.
If you look into this tool further, data in 5G networks will be aggregated in core networks. These networks are owned by the telecom carriers of sovereign states. These carriers are subject to the laws of those states in which they operate, and their data is governed by local laws. There are no security issues there with 5G.
Although we currently think that we don't have any security issues, we are still working hard in that area. Huawei has grown from a small company to what we are today. Our software may not be perfect, but we will continue to improve it. This of course involves ensuring cyber security and privacy protection across entire networks. With privacy protection, for example, we are fully compliant with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation.
06 Joe McDonald: We've seen over the last three months protests in Hong Kong. We're wondering how these protests affect Huawei. I mean it's the next city over, adjacent to your HQ city, and Hong Kong is an important business center for you. What effects are these protests having on Huawei and what effects are they having on US-China relations and tensions in a way that might affect Huawei?
Ren: China operates based on a "one country, two systems" principle in Hong Kong. The problem as we see it is not as simple as a next-door-neighbor problem. Unlike two adjacent cities in the mainland, there's still a border and customs between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
In terms of the "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong works under a free capitalist system while China's mainland works under a socialist system. These are two completely incompatible systems. For Hong Kong, the legal system gives people the freedom to demonstrate. That's understandable. There has been some violence recently, which is in nobody's best interest.
The protests in Hong Kong haven't had any impact on our business. We are still focusing on our production and are patching up the holes in our bullet-riddled plane so that it can return home safely. Right now, we are primarily concerned about whether we will continue to survive under the current US sanctions against Huawei. We are not concerned about what is happening in Hong Kong, nor will we analyze it. We are working to find out more about how the US's Entity List affects us and how to improve our production.
07 Joe McDonald: We're also wondering about Huawei's technological future. What do you see as the most important emerging technologies that have not been developed yet? What do you see as the priority areas for Huawei to develop?
Ren: I think the future of emerging technologies is about intelligent computing and evolution from intelligent computing to artificial intelligence. 5G is just a supporting platform that lets artificial intelligence deliver low latency and high bandwidth. It is a tool rather than a result.
08 Joe McDonald: How is Huawei changing its research and development in response to US pressure? Are you acting as if the Entity List and restrictions will become permanent and you will have to produce your own components? In what areas does Huawei think that it has to become self-reliant or ensure it is no longer dependent on American suppliers? And how is it trying to accomplish that?
Ren: It's unlikely that the US will ever remove Huawei from the Entity List, because no one in the US will take a stand to get us removed from it. It seems that attacking Huawei in the US is politically correct and that the US has every reason to give Huawei a hard time. Any American who voices their support of Huawei, even once, would probably find themselves under attack by many. So we are mentally prepared for staying on the Entity List for a long time to come.
In the short term, we will work to fix the areas that need to be fixed. In the long term, we should be far-sighted, strengthen international cooperation, and firmly support division of labor and cooperation under the globalization framework. We must achieve success in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and cloud. If we aren't successful in these areas, we might become sidelined or just die out. If the US cuts its tech sector off from China, it may be difficult for us to access some advanced US elements. In that situation, will Huawei start to fall from the top? Probably. This is where Chinese scientists and research institutes will come into play.
09 Ken Moritsugu: I'm wondering how much this Entity List and the pressure on Huawei from the US have changed Huawei's strategy. Last year, before this happened, I think most people were talking about 5G rollout. That was the big Huawei story and here's what's coming next. Now, we're talking about the Entity List, the need for Huawei to reduce its dependence on US suppliers. How much have you or Huawei had to change the strategy of the company? And how is that affecting the company and its future?
Ren: The Entity List has not impacted our strategy; rather it has helped it. It has led us to give up on some marginal, unimportant products so that we can focus our resources on core products. In the past, we couldn't control budget allocation among entry-level teams, and as a result, we worked on peripheral products, but now we've made up our mind to axe them. To do this, we implemented a transformation across our R&D functions, during which 46% of R&D departments were removed. The outstanding employees from these departments were relocated to our core product lines. This way, we will only become more competitive in our core products. You visited our exhibition hall yesterday and saw our products with your own eyes. If you have an opportunity to visit other companies and make a comparison, you will come to understand why we are so confident in our global leadership.
The Entity List will not crush us as the US hopes. By adding Huawei to the Entity List, the US wanted to kill off Huawei. But we are not dead; in fact, we are doing even better than before. This is not what they were hoping for, and the Entity List has not affected us as much as it has affected our US partners. They used to supply us with several hundred million or even several billion dollars' worth of components and were suddenly not allowed to do so. Their short-term financial results will surely be significantly impacted and their losses will be felt. After all, stock prices matter a lot to Wall Street.
I think the Entity List hurts the US a lot more than it hurts us. While it should be revoked, I don't think it is likely. So we are prepared for a situation where we will be on the Entity List for a long time.
10 Joe McDonald: You mentioned 5G earlier. How much does Huawei depend on American components or technology for 5G and how will the Entity List affect that and Huawei's ability to sell 5G products? Just products, any 5G technology?
Ren: Huawei's 5G products and core networks don't depend on US components or technology.
Joe McDonald: So either Huawei makes everything itself, or it has non-American suppliers?
Ren: We basically make everything ourselves. However, this is not our purpose. It is only a solution for the current period. Our ultimate purpose is still to provide advanced services for humanity through reasonable division of labor across the globe.
11 Joe McDonald: I would like to ask about the foreign workforce at Huawei. Huawei is unusual among Chinese companies in that it has a large number of very advanced technicians and specialists who are not Chinese. What advantage does Huawei get by having foreign employees instead of an entire Chinese workforce? And what difficulty or what burden does that place on the company?
Ren: When different countries, nationalities, and cultures come together, collisions happen, but these collisions can be mutually beneficial and generate a lot of vitality. Our foreign employees have helped create a diversified culture within our company, giving our products a leading edge around the world. Today, the US is the world's most advanced and most developed country as well as the most powerful country in terms of technology. A critical reason behind this is that the US is an immigrant society, which has attracted countless brilliant minds from around the world. Of course, Huawei is far less diversified than the US, but our foreign employees can serve as "gamma globulins" to inspire changes to the mindset of our current employees. So there are many advantages to hiring foreign workforce.
We are also working to increase the percentage of local hires in our overseas offices. Since it may not be easy for Chinese employees to adapt to overseas work environments, we now prefer hiring local employees to sending more Chinese staff overseas. This is more cost-effective, and more importantly, this creates jobs and cultivates talent for local communities.
Joe McDonald: Some people abroad are uneasy about Huawei and they say there are some questions about who controls the company or who makes decisions. For now, in the very top layer of people who make decisions, the board and the CEO level, all are Chinese citizens. Would Huawei consider adding non-Chinese members to the board of directors or appointing a non-Chinese chief executive as a way of increasing the trust of foreign countries? And if you don't think that's possible, why do you think it's not possible?
Ren: I think our foreign employees must first have the right skillset before being placed in a top management position. Besides, such foreign employees must have worked at Huawei for at least 25 years. This is because I believe a senior executive should start from the very bottom of the company and climb their way up the career ladder step-by-step to gain a comprehensive understanding of how the company works. Some Western companies change their CEOs frequently, but after several rounds of changes, these companies may be totally ruined. This is because new CEOs from other companies may not really understand how these companies run, especially not on the ground floor. Some might even think they can just drink a little wine, talk a little philosophy, and then they're good to run a company.
Non-Chinese employees have taken up positions at Huawei as country-level CEOs and directors of product lines, as well as senior experts like Huawei Fellows, which is the highest technical position at Huawei. Of course, please feel free to recommend qualified candidates for CEO, chairman, or other senior management positions. We will first assign these candidates to work in hardship regions, like in Africa and even way out on the Comoros Islands where we only have one permanent employee with only a cook and a dog to keep him company. We will then send them to other places to get more hands-on experience and technological expertise. After they have developed a comprehensive understanding of Huawei's business, they may have opportunities to be promoted to top management positions.
Why are some Western companies not doing very well? Because their board of directors is focused on finding an excellent chief executive officer. After new executives come on board, they often leverage just about anything to expand capacity, but then have to drop prices when there is an oversupply of products. This might eventually lead to the collapse of these companies.
Therefore, at Huawei, we emphasize that our business leaders must come from within, and this includes our pool of 30,000-plus foreign employees.
Joe McDonald: If you appointed a non-Chinese board member or a non-Chinese chief executive-level person, could you see that causing any trouble with the Communist Party? Would it change the personality of the company from a political point of view? Do you think that's an obstacle?
Ren: No, absolutely not. We have established boards of directors in some countries outside of China, and in those cases, the majority of the members are renowned figures in the local communities.
12 Ken Moritsugu: We learned yesterday that you like to talk to your employees and you like to have tea or coffee, or you encourage them to have tea or coffee. Even as the company has gotten very big, you continue this. I'm wondering, when you speak to your employees now, is anybody worried about the future of Huawei because of the pressure from the US? Or are they comfortable? And why? How are you able to give the employees such confidence despite everything that is happening, if that's the case?
Ren: First, it's not me giving our employees the confidence they need to face our current situation. They get their confidence from the clear path to future success they can see on their own. We wouldn't be able to constantly preach to our employees and force them to believe in the stories we tell. Rather, they can see how their own hard work is contributing to the company. This fills our employees with hope. The Entity List incident has inspired our employees, and they have improved their abilities to solve problems. That further adds to their confidence in our company.
13 Joe McDonald: We want to ask about your life and how your life experiences influence the development of Huawei. Could I ask your background? You came from Guizhou, one of the poorest places in China and you grew up in a poor town. How did someone from your background, a poor kid from Guizhou, become one of the most successful business people in China?
Ren: I personally don't know how I managed to get to where I am today. I once said, even if I had not gone to university and instead worked on raising pigs, I could have become a leading expert in pig farming. I focus relentlessly on whatever I choose to do, so I believe I could be good at anything.
Recently, I traveled to a place called Beidahuang in Northeast China. During that trip, I said if I had worked there when I was young, I would have transformed a village in Beidahuang into a noodle processing factory. This plant would have been able to process all the wheat in Beidahuang into various types of noodles and other wheat products. All the farmers would have become members of the business and shared in our success. That is not a hi-tech industry, and we just would have been turning wheat into noodles, so I don't think that business would have easily failed.
There is a village like this called Nanjie in Henan Province that focuses on making noodles. That village continues to adopt a model of collective dedication, and is very successful. There's yet another village in China called Huaxi that focuses on steel. That's a faster-paced tech industry, so it has been impossible for simple farmers to keep pace with the times. That's why Huaxi village has declined slowly over time.
Even if I had not gone to university and instead raised pigs or worked on noodle processing or something else, I believe I would have still become the best in whichever area I chose, because I have this relentless focus. I established Huawei by accident.
When I was young, I did not have very big dreams. I always just wanted to have some fresh steamed buns because that was something that I was rarely able to have. The second dream I had when I was young was to go to university, so I could get some distance from my parents. I had never left the province where I grew up, so I really wanted to go to another province to broaden my horizons.
I didn't have big dreams when I was young. I just had this relentless focus on whatever I chose to do. With this kind of almost obsessive focus, the likelihood of success becomes much higher. I don't see any connection between my poor background and the success I have today.
Ken Moritsugu: Can I ask about the relentless focus that started when you were very young, when you were still a child? What gave you this relentless focus on whatever you are doing?
Ren: The place where I grew up was very poor. There was pretty much nothing that we could do to entertain ourselves. I played with mud and stones, and shot things at birds. These were the simple things that I could do. Maybe this was how my personality started to take shape. I don't have a background in psychology, so I'm not sure how my personality was formed. I think it may be attributable to my curiosity.
Joe McDonald: We met your author Tian Tao the other day, who wrote a book about Huawei. He said that he asked 50 people what the most important factor in your development was and he said that all 50 people said it was your mother. Is that true? Do you think that your mother influenced your life? And if so, can you tell us how? In what ways?
Ren: Back then, my behavior towards my parents was similar to the way today's young people act towards their parents. The youth of today tend to be cold towards their parents. For example, when they return home from abroad, they may not even bother to call their dad or mom. Instead of talking to their own parents, they will talk with others here and there. This was also true to me. I only came to understand the greatness of my parents' personality and integrity after they passed away. When they were alive, I couldn't understand them, and I often became fed up with what they said to me. So it's hard to say what kind of influence my parents had on my personality.
My father was the principal of a middle school. My mother was responsible for a class of third-year high school students and also taught mathematics. At the same time, she had to take care of seven kids. We had no housekeeper, so my mother had to cook for all of us on her own. She generally spent the 10 minutes between her classes rushing back home to cook rice. Then after a class, she would rush back again to cook, possibly, two simple dishes. Actually, the dishes could hardly be called dishes. That was the life she had.
My father was denounced as a "capitalist roader". He was detained in a so-called cow shed, which was used to hold intellectuals at that time. Because of that, his salary was slashed. My mother was not a college graduate. Therefore, despite her hard work, she only earned 40 yuan per month, around 7 to 8 US dollars, to feed the entire family. We had grown up then, but we boys still had to wear patched and rugged clothes. It was too embarrassing for my sisters, especially those at college, though. So my mother gave the unpatched old clothes to my sisters, and she herself wore the clothes that had been patched up again and again. I was told by my younger brother that her colleagues didn't want to sit close to her during a meeting, because of what she was wearing and the fact that she was the wife of a "capitalist roader". So it's hard to say what influence she had on our personalities. What I do remember was the pitiful experience she went through. By the time I came to understand my parents and I wanted to take good care of them, they had passed away. That was the biggest regret in my life: I missed the opportunity to take good care of my parents.
As I mentioned, my mother only graduated from a junior high school. But she continued studying on her own to better teach her students. Out of her students, more than 90% went to college. So you can imagine the great efforts she had to make. When she was 15 or 16, she joined a choir that sang songs opposing the Japanese invasion during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Because of the absence of the Communist Party there, the choir was probably organized by unofficial teams from the Nationalist Party. After the Chinese Civil War, this experience caused political pressure for her, and she mentally suffered for decades afterwards. On top of this, she had to feed and take care of seven kids. Although my father was a principal, the school was far away from where we lived. So he had no time for us, and it was my mother alone who took care of us. In such a difficult situation, how could my mother have time to talk with us? As far as I can recall, she only talked with us once or twice after cooking in the kitchen.
After my parents passed away, I came to reflect and regret how little I understood them. That's why I don't criticize my own kids for not being close to us. After all, I was just like that when I was a kid. So again, it's really hard to say what kind of influence my parents had on me. I believe that what society has taught us and what we learn by ourselves have a greater influence on us. We cannot attribute our personality entirely to our parents. Otherwise, we would be misled to the theory that your parents' genes define everything about you.
14 Joe McDonald: We were wondering whether there's an example of a problem you encountered and you solved in a way that you think illustrates the Huawei strategy. Someone suggested to us the story of Xiaolingtong and Huawei's decision on whether to develop Xiaolingtong or not. That's one possibility of the Huawei strategy, and how you think about the business.
Ren: I would say Xiaolingtong or the Personal Handy-phone System (PHS) in China was a strange occurrence. It was not born out of market demand; instead, it was a byproduct from the systems at the time. Back then, 55 MHz spectrum was still available at the 1,800 MHz frequency band in China, which could have been allocated to China Telecom to support GSM services. If that had been the case, there would have been no reason for China Telecom to launch the PHS. However, that 55 MHz spectrum was not allocated to China Telecom and as a result, China Telecom had to find an alternative that could work on spectrums that were not strictly regulated. It happened that the PHS acted as cordless home telephones, and didn't require strong signals.
Therefore, China Telecom enhanced its mobility, and introduced it to the market. The PHS was just a temporary product. China Telecom did not have wireless products at the time, so they used the PHS in wireless scenarios.
I think our strategy is to take a long-term view and think about what the actual needs are. That's very important.
The PHS did not have a bright future, and consumed huge amounts of effort and energy. If we expanded into this market, how would we have focused our strategic forces on our promising core business?
Joe McDonald: We have read that that situation was very contentious within Huawei and that the company almost split apart because of it. Can you tell us about that?
Ren: We were not particularly concerned with the external pressure, and we insisted that we not go with the PHS. But there was still pressure from within the company. What if Huawei had tumbled and even died because of my misjudgment?
At the time, Huawei was under great pressure to survive. We were focused on developing products that were in line with 3GPP standards. The whole process to achieve this lasted about eight years. During that period, there were many employees within Huawei who wrote reports asking the company to work on the PHS, because they wanted to make more money. They thought the PHS was very simple, and that Huawei was well positioned to work on it.
Every time I read a report, it was a struggle and an extremely painful experience for me. That's probably also when my depression got worse. Our concerns were not put to rest until China decided to issue 3G licenses eight years later.
15 Joe McDonald: You mentioned depression. We have heard that you have told employees that in about 2000 you felt great pressure and you would wake up in the night and worry about how you would pay employees, and that you even considered suicide. Is that true? And if it is true, can you tell us about that situation? What happened?
Ren: I don't want to talk about this painful experience any further. All I can tell you is that what they have said is true.
Ken Moritsugu: Can you talk about what you learned from that experience, maybe? And did it change you? And how did you overcome this kind of challenge?
Ren: I would say I learned nothing from it. It's like a journey that contains only pain, with no gain. All I can say is that if we spread things too thin and don't stay focused, we are doomed to fail. But if we choose the correct direction and stay the course, success is very likely. We have summarized this goal as the generally correct direction. It's impossible to choose a direction that is 100% correct. So all we need is a generally correct direction.
We also need to inspire passion across our organization, and ensure we all work towards the same goal. Looking back, I would say that's the bet we made on science and technology. It could have been wrong, but luckily, it turned out right. This relieved my pressure, and I never thought about suicide again.
Joe McDonald: How do you think of the situation now, the crisis facing Huawei with the United States, compared with the difficulties with Xiaolingtong in 2000 and so on? If you compare the two, what does this situation feel like?
Ren: The pressure we are facing now is probably only 10% of what we faced back then, because now we are confident that we will weather this crisis. Back then, we knew nothing for sure and we feared the unknown. Now though, I don't have that fear. At that time, I was so tormented by my fear that I fell into depression. Now we are patching our holes step by step. The holes in our 5G and core networks have been fixed, and we only have a couple of holes remaining in our consumer business. We believe we can fix them over the next two to three years. Therefore, we have confidence that we didn't have back then. In addition, unlike those days, we now have more financial resources, and the company stands united as a whole.
Moreover, back then we had yet to define our own identity. We are a private company and in those days, private companies in China had very little social or political status. However, we were earning a profit, and people just couldn't understand why. The pain points that we feel today are the attacks from the US. They attack our business and our market, but this won't crush us. Only in China could my social standing be impacted; nothing the US does could hurt me because I wouldn't go there. I am more relaxed now.
I could have retired earlier, so why am I still working? Because I see I am still helpful in this current crisis. I will continue working for a few more years, so it is likely we will meet again in the future. You can ask whatever questions you want; I will give you the honest answers.
The last 30 years has been a painful experience for me, with little joy. Every step of the way had its own difficulties and pains. You are the first journalist to ask me to compare the current crisis with the painful situation we experienced in 2000. This has given me an opportunity to refresh my memory. Thank you.
16 Joe McDonald: You're in your 70s now. Most Chinese business leaders at your age have already retired, and most people at your age would be enjoying being praised for having been very successful. Instead, you're now in the middle of this trade and technology war between Washington and Beijing. How does that feel? You had so much success and now you are in this conflict. How will you get through this?
Ren: Probably I'm too healthy to want to retire at this point in time. I would be bored if I retired, so I would rather do something for our PR department. This is also a way to entertain myself.
I'll share a few funny stories with you. AIG's former chairman, Allen Greenberg, once invited me to the US for a routine physical with his private doctor. Later on, I did two other physicals at the 301 Hospital and the Peking Union Medical College Hospital back in China. The results of all of these showed that my heart and stomach are both very young and there are no areas of any concern regarding my heart or blood vessels.
I am still very healthy all around. It's probably because I don't have any really bad habits. I never smoke or drink, and I eat healthy and follow my doctor's advice. What's more, I don't have any hobbies like singing or dancing, and I don't take care of children. If I retired, I would have nothing to do at all. I would rather stay at Huawei and do something helpful.
In the last couple of years, I followed my wife on trips to Bolivia. I did not feel uncomfortable at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters in Bolivia. One Huawei employee there told me that the oxygen level at that height was only 0.5 points lower than that in Shenzhen. I was unsure whether he was telling the truth. Recently I also went to Nepal for site visits. A helicopter took me to some level ground near our sites, and then I walked the rest of the way up to see our base stations at an altitude of 5,200 meters. I didn't feel that it was a burden for my heart. Of course, it was unlike walking fast at sea level, but I was able to handle it well. In these last two years, I have not been walking so much. During the years before that, I walked a lot, and young people walking with me might have got blisters on their feet and been unable to carry on.
Why haven't I retired? The reason is that if I don't retire, I can often come to the company to have some coffee. It's inconvenient for me to drink coffee outside, because I am an Internet celebrity.
I told these funny stories to relax the atmosphere. Now let's return to our conversation.
17 Joe McDonald: One question from the news about current events. We saw a news report from the Wall Street Journal that said Huawei employees in two African countries had helped authorities there find or harass their political opponents. What is Huawei's position on this? What is your personal policy on helping other governments do political things? Do you agree to help governments do this sort of thing? Did Huawei agree to help these governments in Africa to do this?
Ren: No such thing happened at all. And this information was totally unsupported. We have issued a legal letter to the Wall Street Journal.
Joe McDonald: What sort of letter is that? A legal demand for retraction or something else?
Ren: It's about asking the media outlet to investigate and clarify. They shouldn't circulate rumors. Instead, they must investigate thoroughly and correct their mistakes.
18 Ken Moritsugu: One more follow-up question. I want to ask about technology because technology is very powerful; it can be used for good or bad in many ways. And I believe Google and Facebook had some of these debates going on about whether they had responsibility for how their technology is used. Do you have any thoughts on technology? Or do you just provide it and people use it? Or do you feel you have a responsibility for how technology is used?
Ren: Huawei provides technology and ensures that our technology complies with cyber security and privacy protection laws, like GDPR. At the end of the day, networks are controlled and managed by sovereign states through carriers, so this is not something that Huawei can or cannot do. After our equipment is installed, carriers observe and track you at all times. Otherwise, how can you dial and make phone calls? The whole process must comply with international laws as well as laws of different countries. This is not something Huawei employees can control. Therefore, the international community has to come up with a unified set of rules on this.