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Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou Steps Closer to U.S.-China Tech War Frontline as Chairwoman

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HONG KONG—Eighteen months ago, she was a high-profile symbol of a bigger tech battle between China and the U.S. Now, she is set to take the helm of a Chinese telecommunications company at the leading edge of the country’s push to break free from dependence on America for key technologies.

Meng Wanzhou,

chief financial officer at Huawei Technologies Co., is set to begin a six-month rotation as company chairwoman after presenting annual results on Friday in Shenzhen, China.

Her rising stature since her return in a high-stakes prisoner swap with Canada marks a turnaround in fortunes for the executive, who spent nearly three years in Vancouver fighting extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges linked to allegations Huawei violated sanctions imposed by Washington on Iran.

Her elevation places her in the driver’s seat as the company presses to replace foreign technology, expand into new business lines and develop its own supply chains after years of U.S. restrictions. Now a national hero, Ms. Meng is a rare face of China’s long-term ambitions to establish supremacy in critical technologies amid rising nationalism at home and a U.S. that is working to check its rise.

After returning to China in late 2021, Ms. Meng is back to running the company’s finances, giving speeches at in-house pep rallies and serving as Huawei’s ambassador to events across China.

At a February ceremony in a chandeliered ballroom at a Huawei campus in China, Ms. Meng appeared alongside five other top Huawei executives, including her father and Huawei chief executive,

Ren Zhengfei.

Men dressed in military uniforms goose-stepped on stage as watching Huawei employees chanted slogans.

Huawei’s founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, remains the company’s most powerful figure.



Photo:

Aly Song/REUTERS

Ms. Meng thanked Huawei employees for their work developing new tools free of Western technology, saying the company’s R&D efforts “are like pearls.”

By threading them together, “the company is shining brightly,” she said.

Huawei has replaced more than 13,000 foreign parts and more than 4,000 circuit boards in the past three years, Mr. Ren said in February. The company still relies on U.S. chip companies for its remaining lineup of 4G smartphones and other consumer gadgets.

As Ms. Meng’s profile has risen at home, her global role has diminished: She no longer crisscrosses the world to meet heads of state and far-flung Huawei customers. Mr. Ren, 78 years old, remains the company’s most powerful figure, and the only one who wields veto power inside the privately held company.

Mr. Ren has warned that Huawei is still in a fight for survival. Its once-dominant smartphone business heavily diminished, Huawei’s efforts to push into new business ventures will grow in urgency if the Biden administration presses ahead with further technology restrictions it is weighing, which include revoking licenses held by U.S. companies to sell to the company.

Ms. Meng’s elevation places her clearly in line to take over the reins from her father, despite Mr. Ren’s once insisting that his children could never run the company that he founded 35 years ago, said Bill Plummer, a former Huawei executive in the U.S. who has worked with Ms. Meng

“Strangely, her three years of house arrest actually helped,” he said.

A Huawei spokeswoman said Ms. Meng will rotate into the chairwoman position for a half year. Two other senior Huawei executives also share the rotating chairman position with Ms. Meng.

Ms. Meng was arrested in December 2018 by Canadian authorities during a stopover in Vancouver while on a world-crossing business trip en route to South America. She was wanted by the U.S. on bank fraud charges linked to allegations that Huawei was illegally selling telecom equipment to Iran. The U.S. has long regarded Huawei as a security threat because of fears that the Chinese government could use its telecom equipment to spy on the West, which Huawei has denied.

Her arrest—and the subsequent detention of two Canadians in China in an act widely seen as retaliation—touched off a three-way diplomatic standoff that concluded in September 2021 with arguably the highest profile prisoner swap since the Cold War. Ms. Meng agreed to admit wrongdoing in exchange for the U.S. dismissing the charges, which it did in December last year.

Meng Wanzhou arrived in Shenzhen, China, in September 2021 after being detained for nearly three years in Canada.



Photo:

Jin Liwang/XINHUA/Zuma Press

Though Huawei once courted U.S. officials and hoped of one day winning big contracts there, it is now effectively shut out of the market and those of other big Western countries. Its steady, yearslong climb in revenue came to a halt in 2021, when the company reported a 29% drop in sales.

Huawei’s current six-month chairman,

Eric Xu,

said at the end of last year that 2022 revenue had stabilized and the company was exiting “crisis mode.”

Ms. Meng has made appearances at industry events across China in recent months, including at a conference for partners of the telecom company China Mobile in December, and at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai in November.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

What will Meng Wanzhou’s leadership mean for Huawei? Join the conversation below.

In September, Ms. Meng gave a speech at the high school that both she and her father attended in Duyun, a rural town in southwest China’s mountainous Guizhou province. She recalled her early days in Huawei’s finance department, where she said she and other bookkeepers bound the company’s financial records by hand each month, according to a copy of the speech posted on a school social-media account.

She said that Huawei faced unprecedented challenges and has been working to attract world-class talent to overcome U.S. restrictions on the company’s access to foreign technology.

“This down-to-earth fighting spirit will never go out of style,” she said.

Photo: DON MACKINNON/AFP via Getty Images

Write to Dan Strumpf at [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8


HONG KONG—Eighteen months ago, she was a high-profile symbol of a bigger tech battle between China and the U.S. Now, she is set to take the helm of a Chinese telecommunications company at the leading edge of the country’s push to break free from dependence on America for key technologies.

Meng Wanzhou,

chief financial officer at Huawei Technologies Co., is set to begin a six-month rotation as company chairwoman after presenting annual results on Friday in Shenzhen, China.

Her rising stature since her return in a high-stakes prisoner swap with Canada marks a turnaround in fortunes for the executive, who spent nearly three years in Vancouver fighting extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges linked to allegations Huawei violated sanctions imposed by Washington on Iran.

Her elevation places her in the driver’s seat as the company presses to replace foreign technology, expand into new business lines and develop its own supply chains after years of U.S. restrictions. Now a national hero, Ms. Meng is a rare face of China’s long-term ambitions to establish supremacy in critical technologies amid rising nationalism at home and a U.S. that is working to check its rise.

After returning to China in late 2021, Ms. Meng is back to running the company’s finances, giving speeches at in-house pep rallies and serving as Huawei’s ambassador to events across China.

At a February ceremony in a chandeliered ballroom at a Huawei campus in China, Ms. Meng appeared alongside five other top Huawei executives, including her father and Huawei chief executive,

Ren Zhengfei.

Men dressed in military uniforms goose-stepped on stage as watching Huawei employees chanted slogans.

Huawei’s founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, remains the company’s most powerful figure.



Photo:

Aly Song/REUTERS

Ms. Meng thanked Huawei employees for their work developing new tools free of Western technology, saying the company’s R&D efforts “are like pearls.”

By threading them together, “the company is shining brightly,” she said.

Huawei has replaced more than 13,000 foreign parts and more than 4,000 circuit boards in the past three years, Mr. Ren said in February. The company still relies on U.S. chip companies for its remaining lineup of 4G smartphones and other consumer gadgets.

As Ms. Meng’s profile has risen at home, her global role has diminished: She no longer crisscrosses the world to meet heads of state and far-flung Huawei customers. Mr. Ren, 78 years old, remains the company’s most powerful figure, and the only one who wields veto power inside the privately held company.

Mr. Ren has warned that Huawei is still in a fight for survival. Its once-dominant smartphone business heavily diminished, Huawei’s efforts to push into new business ventures will grow in urgency if the Biden administration presses ahead with further technology restrictions it is weighing, which include revoking licenses held by U.S. companies to sell to the company.

Ms. Meng’s elevation places her clearly in line to take over the reins from her father, despite Mr. Ren’s once insisting that his children could never run the company that he founded 35 years ago, said Bill Plummer, a former Huawei executive in the U.S. who has worked with Ms. Meng

“Strangely, her three years of house arrest actually helped,” he said.

A Huawei spokeswoman said Ms. Meng will rotate into the chairwoman position for a half year. Two other senior Huawei executives also share the rotating chairman position with Ms. Meng.

Ms. Meng was arrested in December 2018 by Canadian authorities during a stopover in Vancouver while on a world-crossing business trip en route to South America. She was wanted by the U.S. on bank fraud charges linked to allegations that Huawei was illegally selling telecom equipment to Iran. The U.S. has long regarded Huawei as a security threat because of fears that the Chinese government could use its telecom equipment to spy on the West, which Huawei has denied.

Her arrest—and the subsequent detention of two Canadians in China in an act widely seen as retaliation—touched off a three-way diplomatic standoff that concluded in September 2021 with arguably the highest profile prisoner swap since the Cold War. Ms. Meng agreed to admit wrongdoing in exchange for the U.S. dismissing the charges, which it did in December last year.

Meng Wanzhou arrived in Shenzhen, China, in September 2021 after being detained for nearly three years in Canada.



Photo:

Jin Liwang/XINHUA/Zuma Press

Though Huawei once courted U.S. officials and hoped of one day winning big contracts there, it is now effectively shut out of the market and those of other big Western countries. Its steady, yearslong climb in revenue came to a halt in 2021, when the company reported a 29% drop in sales.

Huawei’s current six-month chairman,

Eric Xu,

said at the end of last year that 2022 revenue had stabilized and the company was exiting “crisis mode.”

Ms. Meng has made appearances at industry events across China in recent months, including at a conference for partners of the telecom company China Mobile in December, and at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai in November.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

What will Meng Wanzhou’s leadership mean for Huawei? Join the conversation below.

In September, Ms. Meng gave a speech at the high school that both she and her father attended in Duyun, a rural town in southwest China’s mountainous Guizhou province. She recalled her early days in Huawei’s finance department, where she said she and other bookkeepers bound the company’s financial records by hand each month, according to a copy of the speech posted on a school social-media account.

She said that Huawei faced unprecedented challenges and has been working to attract world-class talent to overcome U.S. restrictions on the company’s access to foreign technology.

“This down-to-earth fighting spirit will never go out of style,” she said.

Photo: DON MACKINNON/AFP via Getty Images

Write to Dan Strumpf at [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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