Calls for Huawei boycott get mixed response in Europe

Logo of Huawei is seen in front of the local offices of Huawei in Warsaw, Poland January 11, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 13 January 2019

Calls for Huawei boycott get mixed response in Europe

  • Huawei has faced increasing scrutiny over its alleged links to Chinese intelligence services
  • Huawei had already seen the arrest of the daughter of the firm’s founder in Canada and US efforts to blacklist the company internationally over security concerns

PARIS: Europe is giving US-led calls for a boycott of Huawei 5G telecoms equipment a mixed reception, with some governments untroubled by spy suspicions against the Chinese giant, but others backing a ban.
In the latest setback for the company, Huawei said Saturday it had fired an employee in Poland who was arrested there a day earlier on suspicion of spying for China. “His alleged actions have no relation to the company,” Huawei said in a statement to AFP.
Huawei had already seen the arrest of the daughter of the firm’s founder in Canada and US efforts to blacklist the company internationally over security concerns.
Several Asian and Pacific countries have followed Washington’s call for a Huawei ban, but the picture in Europe is more nuanced, not least because Huawei’s 5G capabilities are so attractive. They are well ahead of Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia and South Korea’s Samsung, analysts say.
Fifth generation (5G) technology represents a quantum leap in wireless communication speed, and will be key to developing the Internet of things, including self-driving cars. That is why Europe wants to deploy it as quickly as possible.
“Operators have looked at alternatives but have realized that Huawei is currently more innovative and probably better for 5G,” said Dexter Thillien, an analyst at Fitch Solutions.
Huawei has faced increasing scrutiny over its alleged links to Chinese intelligence services, prompting not just the US but also Australia and Japan to block it from building their 5G Internet networks.
But in Europe, Portugal’s main operator MEO signed a deal with Huawei in December during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, praising the Chinese company’s “know how, competence, talent and capacity to develop technology and invest in our country.”
By contrast Norway, whose current networks are for the most part made up of Huawei equipment, is thinking of ways to reduce its “vulnerability,” according to the Nordic country’s transport and communications minister quoted in the local press — especially toward countries with whom Oslo “has no security cooperation,” an implicit reference to China.
Britain’s Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson meanwhile said he had “grave, very deep concerns about Huawei providing the 5G network in Britain.”
The Czech cybersecurity agency said that Chinese laws “force private companies with their headquarters in China to cooperate with intelligence services,” which could make them “a threat” if involved with a country’s key technology.
Germany is under pressure from Washington to follow suit, news magazine Der Spiegel reported. But the country’s IT watchdog says it had seen no evidence Huawei could use its equipment to spy for Beijing.
Meanwhile, telecom operators across Europe, under heavy pressure to roll out 5G quickly, seem to be playing down security fears because using Huawei makes business sense to them.
“Huawei is much more expensive today than its competitors but it’s also much better,” said a spokesperson at a European operator who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the matter. The quality of Huawei’s equipment “is really ahead” of its European competitors, he added.
Furthermore, “everywhere in Europe, operators are the target of huge controls in that area and Huawei’s equipment has never been found to be at fault.”
To add to the confusion, large operators could reject Huawei equipment in some of their markets, but not in others.
Historic French operator Orange has said that it won’t use Huawei networks in France, but could very well do so in Spain and Poland.
Germany’s Deutsche Telekom announced a deal with Huawei for its future 5G network in Poland, but hasn’t said what it will do in Germany itself.
Meanwhile, Huawei is making great efforts to prove its good faith. It has opened test labs for its equipment in Germany and the UK in cooperation with the governments there, and is to launch another in Brussels by the end of the first quarter.
The stakes are high: Europe is a crucial market for Huawei, whose combined sales for Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounted for 27 percent of overall group sales in 2017, mostly thanks to spending by European operators.
Huawei rotating chairman Guo Ping in late December complained that his company was being subjected to “incredibly unfair treatment.”
“Huawei has never and will never present a security threat,” Guo wrote in a New Year’s message to staff.
Some analysts doubt that even a widespread ban on Chinese telecoms networks equipment could possibly guarantee watertight security.
“In Paris alone, there are more than a million Huawei smartphones. If you want to listen in, that’s how many opportunities you have,” said a sector specialist.


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 06 June 2020

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.