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Huawei addresses U.S. media in ad campaign

In an attempt to repair its damaged image in the United States, Chinese telecom company Huawei took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday. The ad is a self-described “open letter to the U.S. media” written as an invitation to readers to reconsider what they’ve heard about the company’s activities in recent news coverage. The top of the ad reads, “Don’t believe everything you hear. Come and see us.”

The U.S. has been pressuring its allies to shun partnership with Huawei on the grounds of national security. There is concern that countries who work with Huawei to set up 5G networks will be under higher risk from the influence of the Chinese government. Many have followed America’s directions, including Australia and New Zealand.

The U.S. is also pursuing legal action against Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou. The charges against her include money laundering, bank fraud and stealing trade secrets. Ms. Wanzhou is currently in Canada, and it remains to be seen whether or not she will be extradited to the U.S.

The ad is the company’s attempt to more directly change its image in the Western public eye. In addition to the Thursday spread in the WSJ, the ad has appeared in banner form on the website of the Washington Post.

In the letter, company director of public and government affairs Catherine Chen invites people to look past “misunderstandings” created by the U.S. government. She invites people to visit the company’s campuses, and to see their employees at work. She also references the company’s extensive 30-year experience working internationally, as well as in partnership with America, and displays a willingness to cooperate toward an indicated greater good. At the end, she leaves an email address for anyone wishing to visit a company location.

The ad is an interesting tonal PR move. In advertising openly and extensively on U.S. news outlets, it is both appealing and imposing. In referencing its past and current operational capacity, it is both assuring experience and asserting power. In an effort to deflect public scrutiny, Huawei is both attempting to appear harmless and indicating that it would be better to work with them than not.

It has been determined a security risk to partner with Huawei in building 5G networks because of the possible access this would allow China to international data-infrastructure. Laws in China require companies to work with the government in Beijing when requested, giving President Xi Jinping and his party significant access to the systems Huawei implements globally.

The ad comes about a week after UK cyber-security chiefs determined that the risk Huawei poses can be managed. Trump signaled the possibility of greater cooperation with the company in remarks expressing interest in America becoming a technology leader through competition, rather than blocking others. He did not mention Huawei specifically.

Considering Huawei’s operational scope, relationship with the Chinese government and the radical potential of 5G networks in building new digital infrastructure, partnership with the telecom giant still poses significant risks to the security of all nations.

The open letter ends as it begins. Americans are invited to doubt what they’ve been told by their government and media, and to come see and experience Huawei for themselves. “We look forward to meeting you,” Chen says.

Whether or not the feeling is mutual remains to be seen.

Sources: The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC

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