TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Huawei has been targeting journalists in both Taiwan and China, in a fairly transparent attempt to sway public opinion and prevent the door closing on its further expansion as an exporter of 5G technology.
The giant telecommunication equipment and electronics manufacturer from China has been caught up in a huge East vs West battle for hearts and minds. This follows the United States government indicting Huawei Technologies Co. in January on charges including industrial espionage.
It accuses Huawei of operating "back doors" in its systems so that it can mop up information for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and potentially target foreign companies and countries. The particular worry here is with 5G, or fifth-generation mobile networks, which operate at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second.
Huawei's PR teams and satellite operators are scrambling to deny this and spin something positive. As a result, they have been reaching out to western media individuals in both Taiwan and China.
Two journalists, one who freelances in Taiwan, and another who lives in China working for a major United States media organization, have told Taiwan News how they were approached by Huawei clients. Both writers spoke on condition of anonymity, but one showed screen grabs of the offer made by agents of Huawei, which offered to increase their salary by 40 percent.
The journalist in China was approached by a headhunter, who said Huawei had two positions to fill. As a test, they were asked how Huawei could improve its approach internationally.
The journalist replied the U.S. does not like the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) methods. They were then asked what could be done about this, before replying that the best thing would be to wage a campaign of distraction.
Huawei’s marketing is strong. (Marketing Week photo)
This response apparently satisfied the headhunter, who then wanted to talk money. "I heard the Huawei guy out and said I wasn't interested," the journalist said.
The freelance reporter in Taipei, who often posts anti-Huawei posts on Facebook forums, was approached by a former colleague. He asked the reporter if they were interested in working for Huawei's "international PR affairs" and offered to put them in touch.
A salary of US$200,000 per year was mentioned. The reporter declined, as this would have had tax implications and hurt their reputation.
"Huawei represents the Beijing consensus that needs to be rolled back," the Taiwan reporter said. "IP theft, sanction busting, price warring, lying all the time about its business."
There have been a number of stories in western media of LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft) and Facebook being trawled by Chinese operatives to find spies and commentators friendly to China. This was described as a "super aggressive" spy campaign by the U.S. counterintelligence chief, in a Reuters report.
Huawei’s response is that it is a private company, fully owned by its 180,000-plus employees, and not a government entity. It says no back doors in its equipment have been found and there is nothing for foreign companies or countries to worry about.
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei (任正非) was quoted by the BBC as saying the U.S. would not squash the company. "If the lights go out in the west, the east will still shine … America doesn't represent the world."
Huawei employs a number of high-profile Western public relations companies, including Burson Cohn & Wolfe (BCW), which is linked with the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service and Bill Clinton.
Clearly, however, that is not enough and individuals with an axe to grind against the company are also being sought out by Huawei. After all, who better to change the mind of a hater than a hater?