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China tech

Detained Huawei chief financial officer defends funding of university research

Meng Wanzhou says company 'not after our partners' patents'

Huawei's funding of university research and other programs has come under scrutiny.   © AP

TOKYO -- Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei Technologies chief financial officer now under house arrest in Canada pending extradition to the U.S., has defended her company's partnerships with universities in a commentary article published on Wednesday in the Nikkei Asian Review.

Huawei's funding of university research and other programs has come under scrutiny amid tensions over China's drive to acquire technological leadership in key fields. Critics have also suggested that Beijing may be using Chinese companies as a vehicle to acquire advanced technologies for its military buildup. Chinese corporate financial support for universities is also seen as a means to cultivate political goodwill.

On Jan. 17, Oxford University disclosed that it had decided earlier in the month to decline new donations or research grants from Huawei. "The decision has been taken in the light of public concerns raised in recent months surrounding U.K. partnerships with Huawei," it said.

Meng, who sometimes goes by the English name Sabrina, was arrested in Vancouver under a U.S. arrest warrant after arriving on a flight from Hong Kong in December. U.S. officials allege she fraudulently misled banks about Huawei's connections with a Hong Kong company that was exporting telecommunications equipment to Iran.

In her commentary article, which Huawei recently adapted from an unpublished speech Meng gave at the World Academic Summit last year in Singapore and then provided to Nikkei after Oxford's announcement, the chief financial officer makes no reference to her detention.

She writes that collaboration with university scholars "is the only way to close the gap between basic science and its commercial application."

"Our goal is only to learn from researchers' successes and failures," wrote Meng, who made no reference to her detention. "Contrary to what some have alleged, Huawei is not after our partners' patents or research results."

According to Meng, the Huawei Innovation Research Program has funded 1,200 external research projects and involved "most of the world's top 100 universities" and national laboratories in more than 30 countries. She cites examples of successful commercialization of this research, such as a noise canceling technique developed with the Technical University of Munich and an approach to reducing power consumption created with Josef Nossek of the German Academy of Science and Engineering.

Meng Wanzhou says Huawei's goal is only to learn from researchers' successes and failures. (Courtesy of Huawei)

"Huawei will continue funding basic research that leads to advances in science and technology," Meng said.

A Huawei spokesperson said that company representatives would be meeting with Oxford this week and that it understood the decision would be reviewed later this year. 

"As a private, employee-owned technology company, with a strong track record in R&D, we believe partnership decisions should, like research, be evidence based," he said. The company has collaborative programs with more than 20 other U.K. universities.

Concerns about Huawei's motives and methods have spilled into other areas as well in recent weeks. In Poland, for example, police arrested a Huawei executive on charges of espionage.

Amid the controversies of recent days, top executives of Huawei, which fired the executive in Poland after his arrest, have been unusually open with the media. Several groups of reporters were welcomed to the company's Shenzhen headquarters for highly rare interviews with Chief Executive Ren Zhengfei, Meng's father. He denied that the company engaged in spying.

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