Shenzhen- Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, has been called the face of the US-China trade war.
But to Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, she is the daughter he praises for her year of “suffering.”
“She should be proud to have been caught in this situation. In the fight between the two nations, she became a bargaining chip,” Ren said in an interview with CNN Business on Tuesday.
Meng was detained in Canada at the request of US authorities one year ago on Sunday. She remains under house arrest in Vancouver and is awaiting a hearing on her possible extradition to the United States. She and Huawei face a number of charges — including bank fraud, trade secrets theft and skirting US sanctions on Iran — in US federal courts.
Meng and Huawei deny the charges.
Huawei, the world’s biggest telecommunications maker and a leading smartphone brand, has become a flashpoint in the trade war. Washington says Huawei poses a national security risk and engages in business that runs counter to US foreign policy interests. The company denies those allegations.
But the United States has been ratcheting up the pressure. Earlier this year, Huawei was placed on a US trade blacklist. The restriction bars American firms such as Google (GOOGL), Intel (INTC) and Micron (MICR) from doing business with Huawei unless they obtain a US government license to do so. Some US firms, such as Microsoft, received limited licenses last week.
Ren is now fighting to ensure the company’s survival. He has often compared Huawei to a bullet-ridden plane and employees to mechanics working frantically to patch the holes. At the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen, there are black and white posters plastered on walls showing a World War II-era aircraft shot through with bullets, but still flying — a reminder to staff of what’s at stake.
Meng, Ren said, is also suffering and will be stronger for it.
“The experience of hardship and suffering is good for Meng and her growth. Under the grand backdrop of the … trade war, she is like a small ant being caught between the collision of two giant powers,” Ren said.
Meng spends her time painting and studying, and her mom and husband fly to Canada regularly to stay with her, according to Ren.
The 75-year-old executive said the ordeal has brought him closer to his daughter. There’s no routine, but he says they chat more than they did before, and he sometimes sends her funny stories he finds online.
“In the past, Meng Wanzhou might not give me a single call in a whole year. She wouldn’t ask how I was, or even send me a text message,” Ren said. “Now, our relationship has become much closer.”
Days after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver, diplomatic relations between China and Canada soured. China arrested two Canadian citizens — former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor.
Beijing has charged them with espionage and denies that their arrests are related to Meng’s case.
Ren said he doesn’t know the details of Kovrig and Spavor’s arrests, adding that he is in no position to comment on the situation.
Kovrig has yet to see his lawyer or family, according to the International Crisis Group, his employer. Spavor’s current status could not be determined.
Meng will officially challenge her extradition to the United States next January.
As for her future at Huawei, one thing is certain: She won’t be getting a promotion.
“Hardships like this one will have a major impact on a person’s grit and character. However, when she returns to Huawei, it doesn’t mean that she’ll be given greater responsibilities,” said Ren.
As CFO, she can handle financial matters, but she is ill equipped to take on other aspects of the business because she doesn’t have a background in technology and doesn’t have what it takes to lead, according to Ren.
“If the company is led by someone without strategic acumen, the company will gradually lose its competitive edge. That’s why when Meng comes back, she’ll continue to do what she has been doing all along,” he said.
— Sherisse Pham contributed to this report.