Critics of Huawei on Chinese social media, who were targeting the company over a dispute brought by a former employee, voiced support for the company in the face of hostile reports made by US media against the firm, including the New York Times.
Huawei is facing intense fire on Chinese social media after the company reportedly played a role in having a former employee, Li Hongyuan, detained for more than 250 days, and failed to quell widespread criticism.
The growing criticism of Huawei, which has won broad support from the Chinese public in its fight against the US crackdown in the past year, marks a significant shift in public sentiment toward the company and sparked discussions about the tech giants' treatment of employees.
However, in recent days, especially after the New York Times published an article titled "How Huawei Lost the Heart of the Chinese Public" on Thursday, many Chinese netizens have shifted their criticism toward foreign media outlets .
Netizens believe that foreign forces, especially those from the US, are hostile to Huawei and its 5G technology and are using the case to smear the firm and justify the US' "unfair and nasty" treatment of the telecom giant.
"Who said Huawei lost the hearts of the Chinese public? She [the journalist] thinks she can represent everyone? I just bought a Huawei smartphone Mate 20 Pro today," Liu Bo, 26, a Beijing-based resident, told the Global Times.
Social media backlash
Huawei grabbed the spotlight following news reports that the company tipped off authorities, Li said, who worked in the company for 12 years and sought 300,000 yuan ($42,511) in severance pay when he left Huawei in 2018. Li was suspected of blackmailing the company, which led to Li's detention by public security departments in Shenzhen for 251 days, media reported.
In August, Li was acquitted after the procuratorate in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, where Huawei is headquartered, decided to drop the case because of insufficient evidence, and Li received a compensation of 100,000 yuan from the state.
Shen Yi, a professor at Shanghai-based Fudan University, told the Global Times that based to the facts, Huawei didn't make a very serious mistake, and state compensation was the conclusion. "There is no denying many hostile critics, controlled by foreign forces, are trying to manipulate Chinese public opinion."
Huawei previously issued a statement in response to the case, saying that Li could launch a lawsuit if he believes his rights were harmed. However, this statement was criticized by many for "lack of compassion."
"Even if Huawei may make mistakes and deserve to be criticized, when it receives attacks and unfair treatment from outside, especially from the US, we will still stand by it," said a web user named Dandan on a Sina Weibo comment, which received more than 800 likes.
"If my son bullies my daughter, I would spank him. When he gets bullied in school, I will help him. But don't expect me to help the bullies to beat my son only because he did something wrong to my daughter. This could explain my attitude to Huawei at this moment," said another web user on guancha.cn.
"If you really care about Li [Hongyuan, the former Huawei employee], why not just wait and see? More facts will surface… But don't be used as a gun to shoot Huawei for others. The New York Times and CNN are joining the battle… don't you get it?" said "HouSha" in an article on his WeChat public account on Thursday night, which received more than 100,000 views.
Chinese observers said this has shown that US mainstream media have a very bad image among the Chinese public, and their participation in the case is actually helping Huawei to win back public support.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was spotted using a Huawei smartphone during a TV appearance on Thursday - a day after admitting there are still security concerns about the UK's relationship with the Chinese firm. Chinese netizens also laughed at UK news reports.
"Smearing Huawei is his job, and using Huawei products is part of his daily life… not bad," said web user Guiqi on a WeChat public account.
No need to speculate
Rumors of Huawei mistreating its employees also surfaced, but at Huawei's Shenzhen headquarters, there was neither palpable fear nor panic over the rumors.
Employees who spoke to the Global Times said they always follow the corporate values of fighting for development, and consider the case of Li "bewildering."
"What he said is not convincing," an employee who preferred not to be named told the Global Times. "Let's wait and see," he said.
The ongoing legal dispute, which sparked a backlash on Chinese social media, has not shaken the confidence of Huawei employees. They believe the truth will eventually surface, and that there is no need to speculate too much.
An anonymous Shenzhen-based observer on IT issues told the Global Times that "it is unfair to launch so much criticism against the firm from one individual legal case, since Huawei did provide high-quality products and developed technologies, including 5G, to China and the world. How could the critics demonize such a company?"
"If it's really an evil company, then it would be impossible for the company to keep talent and make those achievements. Li's case is truly an isolated case, as many Huawei employees are very well-paid and are treated better than the industry average," he stressed.
"Don't forget, Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei chairman Ren Zhengfei, still faces unfair treatment in Canada, and the company is dealing with challenges from the US government. It needs Chinese public support," he noted.