Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad’s visit to Huawei in Beijing seen as sign of ‘endorsement’

By Meng JingZen Soo

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visited Huawei Technologies’ Beijing office on Thursday morning in what was seen as a sign of Malaysian support for the Chinese telecommunications equipment supplier.

Mahathir’s visit could be seen as an “endorsement” for Huawei which is still in the running to provide 5G gear for the country’s telecommunication networks, according to a source familiar with the matter who declined to be named talking about confidential matters. However, no technology deals would be made on this visit, according to the source.

“Malaysia is one of Huawei’s top markets for smartphones in Southeast Asia and Huawei has also taken part in building its 4G network,” said Jia Mo, Shanghai-based analyst with Canalys, adding that the visit is a positive signal for Huawei’s further expansion in the country.

The politician’s visit comes at a time when Huawei has been vilified by the West, in particular the US, over national security concerns as countries start to deploy superfast, next-generation 5G wireless networks. Mahathir is in Beijing to lead Malaysia’s delegation to the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing this week.

Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

My way or the Huawei: how US ultimatum fell flat in Southeast Asia

Huawei is the front runner when it comes to 5G technology and is the world’s biggest supplier of telecommunications equipment by market share. However, Washington claims the company is a front for Chinese espionage, and its accusations have prompted all members of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing community – Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand – to question dealing with the company.

In Southeast Asia, however, US calls to boycott Huawei have largely fallen on deaf ears. The Shenzhen-based company counts major telecom operators as customers in nearly every country in the region, including Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar and Laos.

Earlier this month, Malaysia’s deputy minister for international trade and industry, Ong Kian Ming, toured a Huawei training centre in Cyberjaya and commended the Chinese company for investing in Malaysia.

Some of Malaysia’s major telecom operators, such as Maxis and Axiata, are already key customers for Huawei in the Southeast Asia region. Last month, Maxis began its first 5G live trials in Malaysia with Huawei equipment following a recent announcement that the two companies would work together to “accelerate 5G”.

Last week Mahathir had the first 5G phone call in Malaysia using a Huawei 5G smartphone, according to local media reports.

In the Philippines, Globe Telecom has praised Huawei for being “ahead of its competition” in terms of technology, with security consultants for the operator giving Huawei a “clean bill of health”.

During his China visit Mahathir will also visit the offices of artificial intelligence company SenseTime, according to a press release from the prime minister’s office.

“China is a close friend and an important partner to Malaysia,” said the release. “This visit is expected to strengthen the long-standing friendship between Malaysia and China as well as foster wide-ranging cooperation between the two countries.”

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