How Huawei makes its way to the UK: the former Chinese army chief on the city's charm offensive

At a meeting of & # 39; the world's best cyber security experts in Glasgow, there was only one word on everyone's lips: Huawei.

Few people in this country had even heard of the Chinese telecom company a year ago, but it is quickly becoming a household name – for the wrong reasons.

Huawei delivers kit to most of Britain & # 39; s largest mobile and internet providers. But it is at the center of the fear of espionage, and that is why it was the subject of such a & # 39; n tense discussion at yesterday's CyberUK conference.

Basis: Huawei & # 39; s vast campus in China offers replicas & # 39; s of European monuments

Basis: Huawei & # 39; s vast campus in China offers replicas & # 39; s of European monuments

Theresa May has reportedly given the green light to deliver the next generation kit for the planned 5G networks in Great Britain, to deliver reliable and lightning fast mobile internet.

The company will still be excluded from supplying equipment used in & # 39; sensitive & # 39; parts of the network, such as those containing government information and electricity networks.

Yet this would mean an important victory for Huawei, which has set up a major charm offensive to win acceptance in Europe.

This is in the light of American warnings to his allies that Huawei & # 39; ambiguous and deceptive & # 39; as well as calling for a ban on its products. It has challenged critics to provide evidence of espionage, accused the US of launching a smear campaign and flying journalists to its lavish headquarters in China to interview executives.

Ren Zhengfei, the founder, has given high-profile TV interviews. Behind the scenes, the company has hired City Grandees and spinners to improve its image.

His president in the UK since 2015 is Lord Browne of Madingley, former president of BP.

Telecom companies such as BT and Vodafone, which are heavily dependent on Huawei's technology, have swiftly proceeded to the defense, warning that a ban could cost the UK economy billions of pounds.

Ren has won post-Brexit investments at a time when some overseas companies are withdrawing.

With an estimated value of £ 1.7 billion, Ren is a former engineer in the People's Liberation Army of China and a member of the Communist Party since 1978.

74-year-old Huawei founded the company in 1987 and has grown to become the largest telecom company in the world, with nearly 190,000 people and annual sales of more than £ 81 billion.

It claims to be the property of its employees and has a reputation in China, not like John Lewis. The lush 300-acre campus in southern China features replicas of European buildings and zones named after Paris, Verona and even Lake Windermere in the Lake District.

It has been haunted by questions about the relationship with the Chinese communist government, which have received cheap loans from government ministries, according to US intelligence officials, and academics say the ownership structure is opaque.

Huawei says it's as open as possible. & # 39; We have spent more than a decade trying to communicate with the US and prove what kind of business Huawei is & # 39 ;, said Catherine Chen, US vice president last week. & # 39; It is time for them to present the evidence and facts that support their cause. & # 39;

But John Hemmings, Asia expert at the Henry Jackson Society think tank, said: & # 39; It is now legally required to help Chinese intelligence services at home and abroad. The idea that a Chinese company can work against the wishes of the state is ridiculous. & # 39;

In the United Kingdom, a special center was set up in Oxfordshire in 2010 to address concerns about Huawei. Employees control all equipment and software that is used in the UK.

Spy leaders are confident that this solution will remain sufficient and have never found evidence that Huawei has spied. But they have also repeatedly criticized the & # 39; sloppy & # 39; expertise of the company and warned that this could create weaknesses. Huawei has promised to spend at least £ 1.6 billion on tackling such issues.

But with 5G technology on the horizon, British officials have to decide whether to include it in such a crucial infrastructure project.

Huawei is a world leader in technology and telecom companies say it would compete if they could only buy from Nokia and Ericsson.

But the US has been lobbying intensively with its & # 39; Five Eyes partners & # 39; in security – the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – to ban Huawei, and threaten memory cooperation if they don't.

Decisions do not become stricter than these.