Amid security concerns surrounding Chinese tech giant Huawei, its smaller telecoms rival Xiaomi has been attempting to distinguish itself by focusing on consumer products and non-critical infrastructure.
EURACTIV sat down with Shou Zi Chew, the president of International Xiaomi and chief financial officer. In an interview, Chew said Xiaomi is “a very good local player globally”, adding his company will “make sure that we are fully compliant” with any new rules on artificial intelligence Europe may put forward, as it already did when Europe adopted its landmark General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Xiaomi attended this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos for the first time. Why now?
We are a very global company. Just to give you a sense, our overseas revenue was already very close to $10 billion up to the third quarter of 2019. And the company is only nine years old. This figure represents 49% of our total earnings. We now have about 40 nationalities working for us spread across 58 countries, and we are selling our products in 90 countries around the world.
Artificial intelligence is crucial nowadays for every sector, especially IT and digital. Europe is currently considering how to regulate AI. The EU proved in the past how influential it could be when it comes to digital regulation, for example in the case of the general data protection regulation (GDPR). On AI, the EU initially considered a temporary ban on facial recognition. Google also spoke against facial recognition. What is your take?
These are some of the most important topics that face technology companies today. The only way we can make our global businesses sustainable in the long run is if we are very good local players.
We are very good local players globally. We need to think like a local, we need to comply with rules like a local and we need to invest like a local. Our business in the EU is conducted like that.
In the case of the GDPR, we invest a substantial amount of efforts to make sure that we are fully compliant with it. We set up our whole European operations on day one to comply with this.
Should there be any sort of regulation for AI, we will make sure that we are fully compliant.
Xiaomi is a Chinese company, and the European Commission has said in the past that Europeans should ‘be worried’ about using any Chinese company, not only Huawei. Have you felt any impact in Europe on your business because of your passport?
Notwithstanding what I told you about the need to be a good local company, a lot depends on very good communication. Forums like the World Economic Forum allow us to share the way we think about things and maybe feelings.
Communication is a very dynamic process with a lot of stakeholders, but we have done this repeatedly in many countries. We are very optimistic that we can communicate this to all the relevant stakeholders in Western Europe as well.
But did the Huawei case have an impact on your business?
We are part of a very sophisticated global supply chain, with very obvious advantages.
The trade tension and the subsequent events haven’t directly impacted us. Indirectly, it has caused a bit of uncertainty, both in currency and in terms of the industry as a whole.
If you ask me over a period of long time, we are optimistic about the global supply chain and the relationship will work itself out.
Some experts say the real goal of the US tariff war with China is to contain its technological rise. With this in mind, do you think that the trade truce between the US and China will hold?
Xiaomi operates an industry where we sell our devices to consumers. We are a consumer-facing company. From that perspective, we are different from companies that operate across to enterprise to governments…
And work with infrastructure?
It’s a different type. Of course, every company that operates on a global stage is affected by things that happen on the planet.
China and Europe are trying to conclude an investment agreement this year. However, both sides continue to disagree over industrial subsidies and the forced transfer of technology. Are you optimistic about the prospects of this deal?
Global trade is a very beneficial thing for the global economy. I am optimistic that this view is shared by a lot of people. There are a lot of details on the terms of trade between many countries.
But I am very optimistic about the general direction portrayed, of figuring this out, particularly between Europe and China.