DAVOS, Switzerland -- Ren Zhengfei, founder and CEO of Huawei Technologies, says U.S. sanctions against his company "didn't hurt us much" and that it will be able to withstand something even worse.
Speaking at a panel session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, Ren said his company has "basically stood the challenges" posed by the Trump administration, including being placed on an export black list and targeted constantly on various fronts.
Ren went on to say that the Shenzhen-based telecommunication equipment provider is ready for even harsher sanctions that Washington is rumored to be preparing. The impact of such measures, he said, "would not be very significant."
Part of his confidence stems from what he has already gone through. Ren described how his own humble beginnings -- living for years in a tiny apartment as he poured money into research and development -- helped build a solid foundation for his company. The "experience from last year," he added, has given him and his team a renewed sense of determination.
Ren's confident tone marks a sharp contrast to a year ago, when Huawei used the same platform in Davos to bemoan the impact of Washington's actions. Deputy Chairman Ken Hu, speaking at a panel, said Huawei was "suffering the most in the U.S.-China trade war," while also emphasizing the "damaging effect on many companies."
This time around, Ren himself sent a clear message to political and business leaders: his company can survive -- and even thrive -- in the face of U.S. opposition.
While talking up his company's resilience, Ren also downplayed fears that Huawei could achieve a technological hegemony in the coming years, calling them an "over-concern" on the part of Washington.
Taking artificial intelligence as an example, he said, "China is still starting" and lags behind the U.S. because it lacks the qualified mathematicians, super computers, storage capabilities and other prerequisites for further AI advances.
Panel moderator and Israeli historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari brought up the topic of autonomous weapons, to which Ren replied that such weapons will seem like less of threat once anyone is able to produce them.
Ren added, however, that, "I am not an expert in military." One common source of skepticism regarding his and Huawei's connection with Beijing is the fact that Ren served in the People's Liberation Army before starting his company.