AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said he's ambivalent over the United States government row with Chinese technology giant Huawei. While he acknowledged the vast majority of Washington's concerns regarding the Shenzen-based company and its ties to Beijing.
Still, the Trump administration has so far done an extremely poor job at articulating those arguments in favor of blocking the Chinese firm from doing business in the country, the industry veteran said during his appearance at this week's The Economic Club of Washington DC, a global forum organized by an eponymous non-profit.
Mr. Stephenson, who hasn't spoken publicly on the subject of Huawei for over a year now, was still careful with his words, well-aware of the fact he's walking a dangerous line between burning bridges with what could still prove to be a valuable partner and provoking the wrath of both Capitol Hill and the White House.
AT&T remains a holder of numerous lucrative contracts with the federal government and it was precisely those contracts that were figuratively waved in front of it just over a year ago when the company was close to announcing a retail partnership with Huawei meant to allow its Mate 10 series of Android flagships to enter the U.S. through the front door, backed by contracts and payment plans from the second-largest wireless carrier domestically.
Washington officials managed to dismantle the deal at the very last minute, reportedly around 24 hours before it was supposed to be announced at the 2018 edition of Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. What followed was a rarely seen impromptu speech from Richard Yu, the CEO of Huawei's consumer electronics division.
That episode was just a prelude into a year worth of troubles, with Huawei repeatedly finding itself under scrutiny and on the lips of American diplomats abroad, with Washington initiating a coordinated effort to convince its allies to drop the company's technologies from their 5G plans.
Widely presented as the next big thing, not just in tech but the mankind's development as a whole, the fifth generation of mobile networks promises to enable sci-fi technologies such as self-driving cars, real-time mixed-reality experiences, and truly intelligent, connected cities that manage themselves. It's hence of critical importance for virtually every government in the world, let alone the one that has the status of the strongest economy on the planet to defend.
The U.S. sees Huawei's ties to the Far Eastern country's communist government that go all the way up to its founder Ren Zhengfei as an insurmountable issue, especially when combined with the existence of China's National Intelligence Law enacted in July of 2017 which provides that very same administration with an essentially limitless authority when it comes to forcing private Chinese corporations into cooperating with its agencies and provide information or even actively spy on their foreign customers.
Huawei responded to those concerns with disbelief and occasionally even irony, with Mr. Ren recently remarking how the country's existing wireless network doesn't appear to be particularly safe despite the fact that it doesn't rely on his company's gear.
Who'll be the last one laughing after some two decades' worth of unprecedented animosity remains to be seen; Huawei recently sued the U.S. government over its 2018 spending bill which outlaws the firm's wireless technologies but Washington is presently trying to extradite Huawei CFO and Mr. Ren's 46-year-old daughter Meng Wanzhou from Canada after charging her on several counts of wire fraud, bank fraud, and a conspiracy to commit both so as to circumvent trade sanctions imposed on Iran.