GZERO Media logo

Person In The News: Ren Zhengfei

Person In The News: Ren Zhengfei

You've probably ever heard of Ren Zhengfei. But the billionaire founder of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei is arguably one of the most important private sector figures in global politics today. On Tuesday, the reclusive Mr. Ren spoke with the media for the first time in years, amid an escalating dispute between US and China that's seen his daughter arrested in Canada, where she is now fighting extradition to the US.


As that conflict continues to heat up, it's worth taking a look at one figure who's now playing a central role in the drama.

Why Ren matters: Huawei sells more smartphones than Apple and is the world's leading manufacturer of the gear that powers mobile data networks. The company is also set to play a key role in the development of next-generation 5G networks that will power the big innovations, like smart cities and driverless cars, at the center of the US-China struggle.

The US, worried about threats to national security, has effectively banned Huawei from building its 5G networks – and is pushing its allies to do the same. In December, Canadian authorities arrested Ren's daughter, Meng Wanzhou, who is also the CFO of Huawei, on US charges related to sanctions violations. Meng's fate, and Huawei's, could determine whether the US-China confrontation merely continues to simmer or flares up into something much bigger.

An accidental entrepreneur: Born to rural schoolteachers in one of China's poorest provinces, Ren studied as an engineer, then joined the People's Liberation Army – a career move he once told an interviewer happened only "by chance." Years later, in circumstances that remain murky, Ren emerged at the helm of one of a handful of Chinese companies working to reverse-engineer imported Western networking equipment.

Ren, who is now 74, once claimed to "know nothing" about either technology or finance. But somehow he grew Huawei, whose name can be translated as either "Chinese achievement" or "great action," into one of the biggest and most important technology companies in the world.

Western suspicions: Ren is something of a celebrity in China, where Huawei is admired as a technology success story. In the West, he's a virtual unknown – except among Western spooks, who have long harbored suspicions that he never really fully cut ties with the Chinese military. Justified or not, worries that Huawei might be willing to plant secret backdoors in its networking equipment that could allow Beijing to snoop on sensitive US military communications – or shut data networks down entirely during a crisis – are a key driver of the US campaign to exclude Huawei from global 5G networks.

Ren tried to downplay those concerns on Tuesday, saying he would decline any request to spy on the company's clients. "I love my country, I support the Communist Party," he said, "but I would not do anything to harm the world." No credible public evidence exists to date to suggest that Huawei has assisted Beijing to snoop on foreign networks.

He also tried to diminish the size of Huawei's role in the US-China trade conflict, saying the company was "only a sesame seed" and praising Donald Trump as a "great president" whose tax cuts would help business. Unfortunately for Ren, in the eyes of ascendant China hawks in Washington, Huawei looks less like a sesame seed and more like a big fat target.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

More Show less

On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

More Show less

In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

UNGA banner

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal

Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

UNGA Livestream