Trying to Understand Today’s Huawei News Conference

January 21, 2013

On Monday, Huawei CFO Cathy Meng talked to the press about various and sundry Huawei issues, including recent performance as well as some of the long-term global political issues that have made overseas markets challenging for the Chinese IT giant. For the record, I wasn’t present and did not read a transcript or anything, so I can’t comment on the specifics.

However, I did read what journalists present at the news conference have said, and as a media management exercise, I think it’s fair to take a look at the results. On the whole, I was slightly confused on the messaging.

On the one hand you’ve got the Financial Times with an upbeat, positive headline “Huawei pledges openness to woo critics” that emphasizes Meng’s comments about releasing information about Huawei’s shareholding structure, which has been a source of controversy due to lack of clarity.

Huawei, the Chinese telecoms equipment maker, has pledged to start disclosing more detailed financial and shareholding information as it tries to dispel fears over suspected ties to the Chinese military, which are hampering its global expansion.
Cathy Meng, chief financial officer and daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, said on Monday that Huawei would be publishing increasingly detailed information about who actually owns it.

If one of the goals of the press conference was an attempt to undo some of the damage incurred of late because of lack of transparency, then the FT article is evidence of success.

On the other hand, you’ve got the Associated Press with “China’s Huawei criticizes US security complaints as trade protectionism, promises transparency.” Yes, the good news is tacked on there at the end, but the article leads with this:

Chinese tech giant Huawei on Monday criticized U.S. claims the company might be a security risk as trade protectionism that harms consumers.

and includes this:

At a news conference, chief financial officer Cathy Meng expressed frustration about U.S. security complaints. She said Americans pay about twice what Europeans do for third- and fourth-generation mobile phone service and suggested it was due to impediments to competition.

Was this intended to push back against recent U.S. criticism, including the now infamous U.S. House intelligence committee report? Meng’s comments certainly do that, but the tough guy approach doesn’t exactly mesh well with the conciliatory language about transparency.

To be fair, Meng’s comments might make perfect sense as a whole, and obviously one can be both critical and conciliatory in a single press conference. Perhaps the FT and AP are the ones we should be looking at in terms of going with a biased view of the proceedings, although I have no way of knowing which one is more fair or accurate (perhaps neither).

But ultimately, this is Huawei’s show, and I’m sure it had certain goals for this event. I have a feeling that it is probably fine with the FT coverage but is somewhat disappointed with the AP account. Knowing that negative coverage might follow from any discussion of U.S. protectionism, I have to wonder why it was brought up in the first place. Who is the audience for that language and was there a better way to reach them?