AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Chinese company Huawei sits right in the middle of the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China. Huawei is one of the biggest tech companies in the world, and it's poised to extend its global reach. The U.S. doesn't want to see that happen.
NPR's chief business editor Pallavi Gogoi visited the company's headquarters. She spoke with its chairman, and she joins us now. And Pallavi, what did you hear?
PALLAVI GOGOI, BYLINE: So today, as part of a small group of visiting U.S. journalists, I was at Huawei's beautiful leafy campus. We met with Chairman Liang Hua, who had a surprising message for American leaders who worry that Huawei technology would be used for spying by the Chinese government. In fact, I asked him whether the company would be willing to sign a no-spy agreement, which is basically like a promise that the Huawei technology would not be used for spying. And he said yes. He'd be willing to do that with any country.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LIANG HUA: (Speaking Chinese).
GOGOI: What he's saying is that he is skeptical that such a deal might not necessarily be possible, specifically with the U.S. And he said the U.S. has not bought anything from Huawei, is not buying anything. And that's the reason why he doesn't see an opportunity to sign such an agreement, specifically with the U.S.
CORNISH: Remind us what this is all in response to.
GOGOI: So a lot of things, right, Audie? In recent weeks, Huawei has come under intense attack from the U.S. government. Just last month, the U.S. added Huawei to its, quote, unquote, "entity list," which bars American businesses from selling technology to Huawei without government approval. That hurts Huawei at its core. For instance, Google won't be able to supply Huawei with its Android operating system, which you use to get, you know, for Google search or to get Gmail. But really, when you think about it, all of this began last year when the U.S. and China were clashing over trade.
In the midst of all that, the U.S. issued an arrest warrant for Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on charges that Huawei's breaching American sanctions against Iran, among other allegations. Now, Meng is not just any, you know, CFO. She's also the daughter of Huawei's founder and CEO and is now under house arrest in Canada. Huawei has maintained consistently that the arrest is all about politics and stymieing Huawei's ambitions.
CORNISH: Why is this company at the heart of this trade war?
GOGOI: So Huawei is one of China's most successful tech companies. It is the world's second-largest smartphone maker, behind Samsung, even ahead of Apple. But more significantly, Huawei is expected to be a world leader in 5G. That's a revolutionary technology that will fuel the future of, you know, things like driverless cars, smart cities, smart traffic lights and what have you. The Trump administration believe that trade is about dominance, and China is showing - China and Huawei is showing to be ahead in this key area.
CORNISH: In the meantime, what's next for this company?
GOGOI: There is no doubt that if the U.S. ban is imposed, it will hurt Huawei in the short-term. However, there are some experts who say that it might strengthen Huawei's hand over the long-term. Huawei has a plan B to make its own computer chips and operating system in the coming years.
Now, there was another development today that could signal an easing of tensions between the U.S. government and Huawei. President Trump was in London, and he met with Theresa May earlier today. In that press conference, he was asked specifically about the U.S. warning European countries just this week of dire consequences, you know, when it comes to sharing intelligence if those countries don't ban Huawei from their 5G networks. President Trump sounded conciliatory, actually.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, because we're going to have, absolutely, an agreement on Huawei and everything else. We have an incredible intelligence relationship, and we will be able to work out any differences.
GOGOI: But as we have learned, the devil really is in the details. We'll have to find out, you know, what such an agreement would look like. So stay tuned.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Pallavi Gogoi reporting on Huawei in China. Thank you for speaking with us.
GOGOI: Thank you, Audie.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.