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Huawei founder: we never had government request to hack U.S. networks

A rare sighting of the lesser-spotted Ren.Photograph by Fabrice Coffrini — AFP/Getty Images

At Davos, Huawei’s founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei couldn’t avoid the spotlight. What he thought was a closed-door Q&A session turned out to be webcast live across the world and attended by a slew of journalists.

The founder of the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker with nearly $40 billion sales in 2013 prefers to stay away from cameras. (He said a press aide pushed him to keep his Davos commitment.) An interview he gave in 2013 to a group of New Zealand journalists after building Huawei into a private telecommunications giant over 26 years was his first ever.

On Thursday, the former officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army was direct about Huawei’s role in the cyber spy games that have escalated between China and the U.S.

For years Huawei has been part of the discussion that rose in tenor after Edward Snowden’s revelations of National Security Agency spying, which also included hacking into Huawei’s networks, according to reports in the New York Times and Der Spiegel.

In 2012, a U.S. congressional committee recommended barring Huawei and China’s No. 2 telecommunications equipment maker ZTE from U.S. contracts because of the security threat posed. They alleged that Huawei’s networks in the U.S. sent information back to China.

Ren has already denied the allegations that Huawei is involved in hacking. In his 2013 interview with New Zealand journalists, he said Huawei had no part in cyberattacks in the U.S.

At Davos journalist Peter Goodman of the IB Times asked Ren whether Huawei has ever received requests from the Chinese government to tap into American networks.

“We have never received such a request from the Chinese government,” Ren said “We can’t penetrate into other systems.”