May 11, 2010 6:55 pm

Huawei staff in charm offensive

Chinese expatriates working in India for Huawei Technologies, China’s biggest telecoms equipment maker, are adopting local names and dress in a charm offensive aimed at easing deep-seated suspicions of their company in New Delhi.

One Huawei official, vice-president Weimin Yao, has adopted “Rajeev” as his Indian name while a colleague, Li Jian, calls himself “Amit” Li when he is at the Indian group’s headquarters in Gurgaon, New Delhi.

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“During Indian festivals, they go out of their way to participate. The women wear saris during Diwali and light fire crackers,” the company said.

Huawei’s bid to create a more local image in India comes as Delhi is taking a harder line on imports of Chinese telecoms equipment, with security agencies this year blocking orders of gear from China amid fears this could be embedded with spying devices.

India and China fought a border war in 1962. While trade relations have recently improved, Indian companies are becoming more vociferous about a growing trade deficit with China, worth $16bn last year.

The curb on Chinese telecom equipment imports is threatening to blow up into a diplomatic spat between the countries and is also leading to tensions within India between security hawks and those wishing to improve relations with its powerful neighbour.

This week, Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, reprimanded Jairam Ramesh, the environment minister, for saying India’s policy towards Chinese companies and investments was becoming “paranoid”.

“We are imagining demons where there are none,” Mr Ramesh was quoted as telling reporters. While Huawei has attracted close scrutiny from governments around the world, this has not stopped it from becoming one of the world’s biggest telecom equipment providers.

India accounted for about $1.5bn, or 5 per cent, of Huawei’s global revenue last fiscal year, up more than double compared with a year earlier.

To protect its growing market share in India , Huawei has increasingly sought to localise, setting up a research and development centre in Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, and pledging to invest $500m over the next five years in manufacturing and operations.

Huawei said Chinese expatriates working in India were learning Hindi.

However, such gestures may not be enough to assuage opinion in India about the company’s intentions.

“Prudence demands that in our enthusiasm for expanding our economic ties with China, we should not allow suspect companies ... a free run of our country and access to our communications network,” Bahakutumbi Raman, a commentator with the Centre for Topical Studies in Chennai, said.

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