Huawei Technologies has taken its annual technology showcase to Southeast Asia as it steps up efforts to grow in countries where it can avoid a crackdown by the West.
Digital and economic ministers from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh were in Bangkok as the embattled Chinese company staged its Huawei Connect event overseas for the first time. All four countries have allowed mobile network operators to source 5th-generation telecommunications equipment from Huawei, despite security warnings and bans issued by the US and European governments.
“Huawei is committed to becoming a key contributor to the digital economy in the Asia Pacific [region],” said Simon Lin, Huawei’s president for the Asia-Pacific region.
Executives touted the company’s digital products and services for industrial application, which will be vital for Southeast Asian economies looking to shift to high-value manufacturing. Vietnam has become an alternative destination for electronics manufacturers leaving China, while Indonesia and Thailand are vying to be the center of a regional electric vehicle supply chain.
“Introducing new technology to industrial scenarios is not easy. There are not enough ready-to-use solutions and all industries have a real lack of experience and digital power,” said Huawei’s rotating chairman Ken Hu, who spoke via video link. “The time and cost are major barriers for most organizations.”
The Huawei Connect event was one of the first at Bangkok’s newly reopened Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, which was renovated ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November.
The region’s embrace of Huawei and other Chinese tech champions is at odds with Western countries that have blacklisted Huawei on national security grounds.
Deepening its foothold in markets where it is still welcome will be key for Huawei as it faces a “challenging year” for its smartphone and electronics business. Cut off from chip supplies and Western markets, the company is focusing on 5G infrastructure and cloud and digital solutions.
After Thailand, Huawei Connect will be held in Dubai and Paris. France has discouraged telecoms operators from using Huawei 5G equipment, but has allowed Huawei to build a factory. Gulf countries including the United Arab Emirates have continued to use Huawei in their networks despite US concerns.
Huawei has also expanded into the automotive and artificial intelligence sectors. On Monday, it unveiled Pangu, AI-assisted drug-modeling technology that it said will accelerate research and development of antibacterial drugs, cutting costs by 70%.
Huawei on Monday unveiled a framework for Asia-Pacific policymakers as they guide their economies through a digital transformation. The white paper categorized the region’s economies into four stages of digital development, identifying gaps and recommending actions for each.
Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines were placed in the lowest “adopter” tier, indicating the lack of nationwide connectivity. Thailand and Malaysia were “accelerator” countries, where increasing investment and upskilling the workforce will be necessary. Huawei says it aims to invest USD 100 million by 2024 to train 10,000 developers and support 1,000 startups in the region.