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Huawei takes fight with US over spying fears to top mobile fair

Huawei unveiled a new foldable smartphone on Sunday on the eve of the world’s top mobile fair in Barcelona and hit out against Washington’s campaign to bar it from developing next-generation 5G wireless networks.

China’s most successful global firm has booked a huge stand at the four-day Mobile World Congress and has sent a large delegation which includes its media-shy founder, Ren Zhengfei, and two rotating chairmen.

The trade fair, which officially opens on Monday and is expected to draw some 100,000 people from across the telecoms industry, comes as the United States has stepped up pressure on its allies to block Huawei from building its 5G networks.

US officials suspect that Beijing could use the Shenzhen-based Huawei’s products to spy on Western governments, and the company’s presence in the United States has already been severely restricted.

Washington considers the matter urgent as countries around the world prepare to roll out fifth-generation or 5G networks that will bring near-instantaneous connectivity, vast data capacity and futuristic technologies such as self-driving cars.

The Trump administration has reportedly sent a large delegation of its own to the trade fair to press its case with industry executives and its foreign counterparts.

Huawei, the world’s second-largest smartphone vendor after Samsung and the leading supplier of the backbone equipment for wireless mobile networks worldwide, strenuously denied its equipment could be used for espionage.

Asked about Washington’s campaign during a roundtable with media on Sunday in Barcelona, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping said he “still can’t understand why such a national power wants to attack a company with advanced technologies.”

“We have never and we are not and we will never allow back doors in our equipment and we will never allow anyone from any country to do that in our equipment,” he added through an interpreter.

“Huawei needs to abide by Chinese laws and also by the laws outside China if we operate in those countries. Huawei will never, and dare not, and cannot violate any rules and regulations in the countries where we operate.”

Guo said 5G security standards should be decided by technical experts, not politicians, and that Huawei hoped each country would make its decisions based on “national interests (and) not just listen to someone else’s order”.

– 12-month jump on rivals –

Network operators seeking to quickly deploy the new wireless networks are in a bind as Huawei’s 5G equipment is seen as being considerably more advanced than that of its rivals such as Sweden’s Ericsson or Finland’s Nokia.

Guo said Huawei is 12 months ahead of its rivals in implementing 5G technology.

At a separate event in Barcelona, Huawei unveiled a phone with a folding screen, just four days after rival Samsung became the first major handset maker to offer the feature in a device it unveiled in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The phone, Mate X, will be compatible with the 5G networks and cost 2,299 euros ($2,600), said Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business group.

“Our engineers worked on this screen for over three years,” he said.

The Mate X’s screen wraps around the outside so users can still view it when it is closed, unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, which has a screen that folds shut.

Huawei’s new phones and its 5G advances “could allow it to be talked about more positively,” said Dexter Thillien, an industry analyst with Fitch Solutions.

“They are going to be able to talk to the whole world (at the trade show), reassure their clients and also show that they are continuing to do their work,” he added.

Huawei has 180,000 employees in 170 countries and counts 45 of the world’s biggest wireless carriers as customers.