Prince’s Trust suspends ties to Huawei

Katherine Jenkins Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Katherine Jenkins is among the artists who have performed at Huawei’s concerts for the Prince’s Trust

The Prince’s Trust has become the latest organisation to back away from Huawei, following security fears raised about the Chinese tech firm.

The youth charity, which was founded by Prince Charles, said it was “not accepting new donations from Huawei in light of public concerns”.

The company had supported the trust for more than a decade.

University of Oxford and Queen’s University Belfast have also decided not to ask them for new donations.

But the University of Cambridge – which benefits from a £25m initiative involving Huawei – said its partnership was not affected.

“We review all of our relationships regularly. This case is no different,” said a spokesman for the university.

Likewise, the University of Surrey – which houses one of the country’s leading 5G research centres – said it would maintain its links to the firm.

“We will continue to work with all our research partners, including Huawei, unless there are clear and compelling reasons not to,” said a spokesman.

Huawei also has ties to the Universities of York, Southampton, Reading and Edinburgh Napier among others.

Feared threat

Huawei faces claims that it poses a potential threat to countries that use its technologies, because Beijing might coerce it into providing a way to spy on its clients’ communications networks or crash them during an international dispute.

The company’s founder Ren Zhengfei recently told foreign media that he would “never harm the interest of my customers” and that his company would “not answer to such requests”.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Huawei’s founder has denied it would help spy on data transmitted via its equipment

But the US government – which has been one of Huawei’s leading critics – does not accept such assurances.

“Huawei has a profit incentive to act in good faith,” a Department of Homeland Security official told the Wall Street Journal.

“But the party will get what they want.”

‘Disappointed’

Huawei has supported the Prince’s Trust since 2007 and was made one of its patrons in 2016, in recognition of the level of support it had provided.

The company has donated a total of £490,000 to the organisation.

Much of this was raised via an annual winter concert held at London’s Royal Festival Hall. At parties hosted by Huawei at the event, a disadvantaged young person helped by the trust would regularly give an account of how they had been supported to start a business or otherwise improve their situation.

The fixtures attracted several leading members of society, but were not attended by Prince Charles himself.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Prince Charles is the president of the Prince’s Trust but does not involve himself with many of its sponsorship activities

“We were disappointed to hear this news from the trust, as we have the greatest respect for the excellent work it does with young people,” said a spokesman for Huawei.

“We are proud of our 10-year partnership and of course hope we can work together again in the future.

“We regret that decisions of this sort are being taken as a result of ill-informed and unfounded discourse about Huawei.”

A spokeswoman for the trust said that: “Future donations will continue to be reviewed by our Ethical Fundraising Committee.”

She added that the firm would retain its status as a patron “until all current commitments have been delivered”.

Overtaking Samsung

Restrictions on Huawei’s ability to sell its 5G gear to overseas mobile networks threaten its profits, after it has spent huge sums on developing the technologies.

In the UK, for example, BT has already said it will not use the firm’s equipment in the “core” of its network, although it still plans to use its phone mast antennas and other products elsewhere.

But even this could be constrained if the government decides to act on “deep concerns”, voiced by the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, on the use of its kit.

The company has reportedly written to staff saying jobs may need to be cut if it has to lower its targets.

Huawei, however, remains confident about the performance of its handset business, which continues to grow despite it failing to secure a distribution deal with a US network.

The unit shipped 208 million handsets in 2018, putting it behind only Samsung.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Huawei believes that it can overtake Samsung in smartphone sales soon

“Even without the US market we will be number one in the world,” the firm’s consumer division chief, Richard Yu, has told reporters in Beijing.

“I believe at the earliest this year and next year at the latest.”

He added that Huawei would unveil a foldable-screened handset at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month.

In other related developments:

  • Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, has said that Huawei’s chief financial officer had “quite good arguments on her side” to oppose her extradition to the US from Vancouver. Mr McCallum suggested that “political involvement by comments from Donald Trump,” in which the president suggested he might intervene if it helped him secure a trade deal, could weigh on Canada’s decision over whether to comply with the US’s expected request
  • several US universities have removed video conferencing systems made by Huawei while others are considering doing so, according to Reuters. The news agency said that the establishments feared they could lose federal funding if they did not do so
  • the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee has written to ministers asking what assessment has been made of the risk of Beijing compelling Chinese companies to help it spy on the UK. It has also written to Huawei itself seeking reassurances, and requested a reply by 29 January

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