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Huawei negotiates rough waters of U.S., China trade relations

Thu, 03/24/2011 - 8:05am
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

ORLANDO – Huawei has found out the hard way that it's not easy being a China-based company trying to do business in the United States, especially when the equipment you're selling powers key parts of the nation's communications infrastructure.

Strained trade relations between the United States and China have cast suspicion on Huawei and its products – suspicions Huawei says are unwarranted. The resulting concerns over national security have cost Huawei a number of important deals.

Fear that Huawei's products could somehow threaten national security stopped its acquisition of 3Leaf Systems, cost it a chance of landing a portion of Sprint Nextel's $5 billion network modernization project, put a stop to its plans to bid on Motorola's networks business and thwarted its attempt to buy out 3Com.

Despite this, Huawei made little attempt to defend its reputation. Now that's changed.

William Plummer, Huawei's vice president of external affairs, was hired 10 months ago to help set the record straight. A former U.S. Foreign Service officer who once carried out a diplomatic mission to the Republic of Ecuador, Plummer is on a similar diplomatic mission at Huawei.

"We're certainly sensitive to the fact that there are geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Chinese governments – that's a reality. But Huawei is Huawei, not the Chinese government," Plummer said in an interview at CTIA Wireless 2011.

Plummer is working to clear up several long-standing rumors about Huawei, including financial backing from the Chinese government, ties to China's military, intellectual property rights violations and threats to national security. It's a task other companies don't face when they go to do business in the United States.

"At times we seem to be caught up in that context as opposed to our ability to bring top-quality solutions to market at lowest cost of ownership," Plummer says. "Given that we get caught up in that context, we're in the process of setting the record straight."

Plummer is taking that message everywhere he goes, including this week's conference. Plummer is talking to potential customers, the media and government officials to explain that Huawei conducts business in the same way as other infrastructure companies. Huawei may be based in China, but it's not tied to the Chinese government, Plummer says.

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