Huawei CEO calls Trump a 'great president' but slams his 'intimidating' tactics

Key Points
  • Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei called Donald Trump a "great president," because of his tax cuts.
  • But Ren said Trump's "intimidating" tactics toward countries and companies could offset the benefit gained from the tax cuts and scare off investment.
  • The Huawei CEO said the U.S. is "scared" of his company and has helped it advertise its brand globally by talking about it so much.
Trump is a 'great president,' but has shortcomings: Huawei CEO

Huawei's founder said he thinks Donald Trump is a "great president" but has "shortcomings" that could offset policies designed to help the U.S. economy.

In particular, CEO Ren Zhengfei praised Trump's tax cuts, which he said will help companies report good earnings and boost the stock market. But he claimed that the American president's tactics with some countries — and companies — could hurt foreign investment into the United States.

"If President Trump continues intimidating other countries and companies, and keeps randomly detaining people, who would risk investing in the U.S.? People will be afraid of getting trapped there," Ren told CNBC in an interview that aired Monday. "If no one dares to invest in the U.S., then how can they make up for lost tax revenue? The government would find it hard to address its deficit."

After he reduced taxes, he should have been friendlier to other countries and try to convince everyone that the U.S. is a great place to invest. If everyone went to invest in the U.S., the U.S. economy would grow dramatically.
Ren Zhengfei
founder and CEO, Huawei

"When he reduces taxes, he must be hoping to attract more investment," he added. "But if investors are scared that they won't get their money back, they won't dare to invest in the U.S."

Ren did not identify any specific countries or companies intimidated by Trump, nor people the president has detained.

The Trump administration initiated a trade war with China last year, and Huawei has factored prominently in it. The U.S. and other countries have blocked or limited the deployment of Huawei's high-speed internet 5G technology, out of concerns that it could used to facilitate Chinese espionage.

Separately, Canada in December detained Ren's daughter, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, at the request of the United States. The U.S. has charged Meng with fraud related to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Meng and Huawei deny those charges.

Ren encouraged Trump to be "friendlier" and said, again without specifics, that the United States should steer clear of "violence."

"After he reduced taxes, he should have been friendlier to other countries and try to convince everyone that the U.S. is a great place to invest. If everyone went to invest in the U.S., the U.S. economy would grow dramatically. The U.S. doesn't need to conquer the world through violence. They have great technologies, skilled labor and economic strength. Any one of these things could help them conquer the world," Ren said.

"They don't need a warship to conquer the world. The cost of using a warship is high. If they attack a country, that country will fight back," he said. "If a country is poor and they have nothing to lose, they aren't afraid of being attacked. But the U.S. is in a different situation. It's a wealthy country, so it has a lot to lose."

The CEO emphasized that he was stating only his personal view, not Huawei's position.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Ren Zhengfei, founder and chief executive officer of Huawei Technologies Co., speaks during an interview at the company's headquarters in Shenzhen, China, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Huawei founder said he has not spoken to Trump but urged collaboration between the United States and China.

He added that he would "welcome" Trump and officials from his administration to visit the company at its offices in Shenzhen.

"When two nations or companies meet, they must collaborate to achieve shared success," Ren said. "The U.S is a strong economy and offers many high-quality products. China has a population of 1.3 billion consumers. The U.S. needs the Chinese market, and China needs technology from the U.S. The collaboration between these two countries would create two trains that can tow the global economy out of trouble."

Among the accusations the United States has leveled at Beijing is that it impedes foreign companies from doing business in China and requires U.S. companies to hand over their proprietary technology in exchange for limited market access.

USA is 'scared' of Huawei

Huawei has been under intense political pressure from the United States and other countries, which have accused the company of being a security risk because it could help the Chinese government carry out espionage. Huawei has repeatedly denied that it would help Beijing if asked.

"We would never follow anyone's instructions to install backdoors. It will never happen," Ren said.

Independent experts have warned that Huawei would have no choice but to comply with the Chinese government if it said it wanted network data.

American security complaints have helped bring attention to Huawei — and Ren likened it to good advertising.

"For such a powerful country to be scared of a small company like us, some other countries are saying, 'Your products are so good that the U.S. government is scared. We won't test your products. We'll buy them directly.' That's why some deep-pocketed countries with rich oil reserves are buying from us. They are buying our products in large quantities as the U.S. government is advertising for us," Ren told CNBC.

Ren did not identify those oil-rich, national customers, but the communications minister of Saudi Arabia in February told CNBC that the Kingdom is an "open economy" that is willing to use Huawei technology.

Huawei 'cannot help solve' trade war

In February, Trump said that Huawei and ZTE, which are both effectively banned in the United States, could be part of a broader trade deal. Trade talks are ongoing, and representatives from both countries have hinted in recent weeks that they're closer to an agreement.

But Ren doesn't think Huawei can influence the negotiations.

"If the U.S. thinks we can be used as a pawn, I'd say they probably have the wrong person," Ren said. "We cannot help solve the China-US trade disputes, because we don't really sell in the U.S. and have no influence on China-U.S. relations."