One thing I’ve learned about technology conferences is that executives give highly-massaged and impeccably scripted speeches. Even Marc Benioff, the master of an apparent off-the-cuff style of keynote presentation, spends hours with his marketing people before going on stage to ensure that everything is perfectly message.

So it came as a real shock to hear that Richard Yu, the CEO of the huge consumer products division of Chinese technology vendor Huawei, changed the narrative in his keynote at CES this week. Of course, there was an absolutely massive elephant in the room at CES. Only days before the show, the rumored partnership between AT&T and Huawei, which would see the Chinese company’s handsets finally on offer by a US carrier, was suddenly canceled. AT&T pulled out of the deal, allegedly in response to some political interference in the US. A cowardly response by AT&T, albeit understandable, so how did Yu react?

After spending some time awkwardly extolling the virtues of Huawei’s latest Handset, the Mate 10 Pro, to a market that is unlikely to see it, Yu finished his presentation with a single slide entitled “Something I want to Share.” To the backdrop of that slide, Yu went on the offensive and gave an impassioned defense of choice and open competition. Given that Huawei is the third biggest phone vendor, it is justifiable that Yu would be incredulous that US customers are blocked from accessing the company’s products. As he stated:

Everybody knows that in the US market that over 90 percent of smartphones are sold by carrier channels. It’s a big loss for us, and also for carriers, but the more big loss is for consumers, because consumers don’t have the best choice.”

Of course, the reason for the political interference is the long-held view that Huawei helps the Chinese government with its surveillance operations and that Huawei devices are the source of data leakage into China. The fact that the decision to axe the deal came from AT&T, the company that allegedly helped the US with its own spying initiatives, as outed by Edward Snowden, is an ironic fact that, alas, will largely be lost on most people. The fact that Huawei is active in almost every market other than the US, is yet another indication that something is awry here. In an impassioned reflection of his 25-year-old Huawei career, Yu commented on the company’s global experience to date:

We win the trust of the Chinese carriers, we win the trust of the emerging markets… and also we win the trust of the global carriers, all the European and Japanese carriers. We are serving over 70 million people worldwide. We’ve proven our quality, we’ve proven our privacy and security protection.

While Yu’s speech is unlikely to change anything in the short term, just maybe it will get people thinking about the dichotomies and hypocrisy that come with US commercial and governmental decisions. Something tells me that Yu will still be around to enjoy a future in which Huawei can compete fairly – in the US and elsewhere.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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