It appears Ren Zhengfei, founder and CEO of telecoms equipment maker Huawei, might no longer be one of the Communist Party’s favorite entrepreneurs.
The party had named Ren as one of the 30 most outstanding figures (link in Chinese) when China celebrated the 30th anniversary of its economic reforms in 2008, initiated by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Ren, however, didn’t make it to this year’s list of 100 “reform pioneers” (link in Chinese) for their “outstanding contributions” to the country. The list was revealed today (Dec. 18) at a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the reforms at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, where president Xi Jinping delivered a more than hour-long speech on what China has achieved since Deng’s policies.
Ren’s absence comes at a troubling time for Huawei, including the recent arrest of its CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is also Ren’s daughter. Meng was arrested by Canadian authorities on Dec. 1 at the request of the US on suspicion of violating sanctions on Iran, and was granted bail last week. This year, the US and its allies have also stepped up efforts to restrict the use of Huawei equipment in their countries, on the grounds that the company’s equipment poses potential national security risks, particularly as more countries get ready for the rollout of 5G networks.
In one of its most robust efforts to address the concerns about it yet, Huawei invited foreign media to its Shenzhen campus the same day as China’s 40th anniversary commemorations, and said that it would spend $2 billion over the next five years to enhance cybersecurity, while also announcing it has secured some two dozen 5G contracts so far. “Locking out competitors from a playing field cannot make yourself better,” rotating chairman Ken Hu told reporters on Tuesday.
Other technology titans who were named in this year’s list include Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi, Tencent founder Pony Ma, and Baidu CEO Robin Li.
Even though it’s unclear what led to Ren’s omission, some posited that taking him out of the spotlight might be better for the company in the current climate.
“Amid the ongoing trade war, if Huawei is named, then lots of governments and media from Western countries will exploit the fact that Huawei is connected to the Chinese government and use this as an excuse to push Huawei out of local markets… Ren Zhengfei would have approved of not being on the list in exchange for the future of the 5G market, and the Chinese officials understand this,” read a commentary (link in Chinese) published in Duowei News, a Chinese news platform based in New York.
Among the 30 most outstanding figures selected by the Communist Party, 17 who appeared in 2008’s list didn’t make it to this year’s list, including Ren. They are:
Wu Jinglian, economist and former researcher at the Development Research Center of the State Council
Yu Guangyuan, an economist who helped Deng launch the economic reforms
Wang Meng, writer and former chief of the Ministry of Culture, which no longer exists
Zhang Yimou, film director
Gao Shangquan, former chairman of the State Commission for Restructuring the Economic Systems
Deng Yaping, four-time Olympic table-tennis champion
Chen Xiwen, former chief officer for the Central Leading Small Group for Rural Work
Jiang Ping, former principal of China University of Political Science and Law
Li Rui, former secretary to Mao Zedong
Qiu He, former party chief of Kunming city in southwestern China
Ji Xianlin, writer, former vice-principal of Peking University
Wang Shi, founder of real-estate developer Vanke
Long Yongtu, former vice-minister of China’s foreign trade ministry, which was replaced by the Ministry of Commerce in 2003
Li Hao, former party secretary of Shenzhen
Zhang Haidi, writer, vice chairperson of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation
Zheng Bijian, former vice-president of the Central Party School
Update, Dec. 18: This story was updated with details of Huawei’s press conference on Tuesday.