Mr. Ren Zhengfei went to Moscow

Huawei founder's thoughts in 1996, on Russia and China

IL-86 In July, Pekingnology translated Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei’s mini-autobiography which details his upbringing, and his notes from visiting the United States in 1994.

This newsletter translates his article published in 1996, where he wrote extensively about “the first time for Huawei to participate and compete in such a large-scale international exhibition.”

The translation is based on the赴俄参展杂记》on 华为人 Huawei People newspaper available on Huawei’s Xinsheng Community, an online forum open to the general public featuring corporate documents, executives’ speeches or emails, and employee discussions.

Pekingnology will in the future publish another longer article from Ren entitled 《我们向美国人民学习什么》 “What we should learn from the American people” in 1998.



Thoughts on Going to the Russian Exhibition

by Ren Zhengfei, first published on August 26, 1996

Our car ran along the Moscow River, passing through one after another stunning forest, jumping up the Lenin Peak, and passing by Moscow University. The holy land I had long dreamed of ever since I was a teenager was right there in front of me.

I grew up in the honeymoon era of Sino-Soviet friendship. At that time, China was publicizing the idea that the Soviet Union’s present was our tomorrow. Films and literary works were all depicting the development of the Soviet Union. Chinese people in that era had been deeply influenced by Soviet culture. Characters such as Pavel Korchagin, Tonya Tumanova, Rita Ustinovich, Zoya and Shura, and Gulya Koroleva had always been there guiding me. Last year, I bought a videotape of “The Pedagogical Poem.” Makarenko’s efforts for decades have helped Russian people cultivate good cultural qualities and education. I finished the journey of my youth with a copy of “How the Steel Was Tempered” in hand.

Russia is a great country and a great nation. It ranks first in aerospace, cutting-edge science, literature and art, basic resources, energy, and forests. Even though it is struggling in consumer goods, but it will develop very quickly. In ten years, the development of Russia will be unimaginable.

It was not until I entered Russia that I truly knew about the depreciation of the ruble. I spent 20,000 rubles renting two trolleys and pushed my luggage to the gate (at the airport). It usually costs about 400,000 to 500,000 rubles to take a taxi to the city. Seven or eight years ago, it was 0.8 rubles for one dollar. Now, it is 5,000 rubles for one dollar. The difficulties brought to the people by the economic transition are unimaginable.

When the embassy came to pick us up, Director Yu explained to us that the Russian people are still polite and orderly in the woes of such high inflation, giving the government understanding and support. Many scientists, artists, and senior intellectuals have suddenly become poor. But they remain optimistic. If China fails in reforms, can we fully understand our government and give them some time to correct mistakes? No one can guarantee that the decisions of anything will turn out successful. Only mutual understanding and tolerance can make our policies more and more reasonable.

Moscow is a beautiful city. We visited the memorial hall of World War II in Victory Square on Poklonnaya Hill. The building was pointing to the blue sky like a sword, symbolizing the strong will and indomitable national courage of the people of the Soviet Union to bravely resist fascist aggression. All the towers are made of copper. The epic deeds of anti-fascist aggression were engraved on the towers, from top to bottom. It truly is a masterpiece. The panoramic paintings in the memorial hall depicted the major battles in WWII to commemorate the 37 million citizens who had died to protect the country. These artworks alone reflect the greatness of Russian culture. The victory of World War II also proved this greatness.

Last year, General Secretary Jiang Zemin also came here to attend the anti-fascist memorial meeting and watched the military parade. The Chinese people also went through eight years of hard resistance against Japan’s invasion and so many compatriots were sacrificed. We shall never allow such a war to be repeated.

The main theme of today’s world is peace and development, and political forces are moving towards multi-polarization. Under mutual constraints, it will be more difficult to wage a war.

We Chinese people also understood the profound connotation of “weak countries have no diplomacy” in our hardest years. Only by stepping up the construction of our country can we make greater contributions to the world. At that time, the United States would no longer call for sanctions every day relying on its strong capacities. 

If we want to be truly patriotic, we should develop the economy and build the country as soon as possible according to Deng Xiaoping’s “Three Favorable” Principle (namely determining whether what we do is favorable to growing the productive forces in a socialist society, increasing the overall strength of the socialist state, and raising people’s living standards).

We should not rigidly use some forms to restrain ourselves, and should not view relations of production and productive forces in a formulaic way. President Yeltsin was visiting China at the time of my visit to Russia. President Yeltsin spoke highly of China’s economic construction. General Secretary Jiang and President Yeltsin established a strategic partnership between China and Russia in the coming 21st century. General Secretary Jiang also signed a military trust agreement with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, ascertaining borders. This agreement will have an enormous impact on the realization of China’s 15-year development plan since we can concentrate limited funds on construction rather than the military, and the mutually open markets of the two sides can complement economic growth.

Under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping’s idea – “don’t mind others’ business and build our own country well,” China has made great accomplishments in diplomatic affairs in the past decade. Although the U.S. government has been peddling the “China threat” theory every day, no one buys it. Neighboring countries trust China’s Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. We have won a rare peaceful environment for the implementation of the 15-year plan. The country is politically stable, and the economy is in order. The last few years of this century are the best development period in the past century. We must cherish this rare opportunity to establish Huawei’s international status at the beginning of the next century.

During our stay in Russia, the Russian people also spoke highly of the strategic partnership between China and Russia. Tass News Agency reported on our exhibition twice and gave it high praise. In my opinion, it’s not because our products are so good that the Russian government attaches such importance to us, but because we have indirectly benefited from General Secretary Jiang and President Yeltsin, and from China and Russia’s mutual hope to improve relations.

We are here to attend the 8th Moscow International Communication Exhibition. The huge lineup composed of more than 600 exhibitors from more than 30 countries was attracted by the potentially huge market in Russia. It is the first time for Huawei to participate and compete in such a large-scale international exhibition, other than a small-scale one taken place in Geneva last year. Huawei prepared tens of thousands of copies of (promotional) materials.

The background of our exhibition is that Chinese small traders have created a mess in Russia, selling a large number of fake and shoddy products, taking advantage of honest Russians. So, some better stores would put up notices saying “there are no Chinese goods sold here” to propagate themselves. On the other hand, we have language barriers. There are not many people in our company who speak English very well, let alone the ones who excel in both English and technology. The same goes for the Russian side, which forms a communication barrier. I was really worried before the exhibition. Many people said that it is not easy to succeed in participating in the exhibition in Russia, because Russians are generally arrogant and they have the impression of fake and shoddy Chinese goods.

So, as soon as our team arrived, they immediately started preparation work. It truly was difficult for them to participate in such a large-scale exhibition for the first time, in a place they were so unfamiliar with, relying on US dollars to solve everything.

Amid the busy preparation, we took the time to visit Bulgaria, Romania, Azerbaijan, and other countries. If Russia is a “country of forests,” then Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, shall be called a “city of gardens.” Azerbaijan is the oil base of the Soviet Union, and Baku, its capital, is very famous. Its oil has been exploited continuously for nearly 100 years. During World War II, 70% of the oil used by Soviet tanks and aircraft was supplied by Baku. After so much time of service, Baku is in recession. Its situations became extremely difficult because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, especially for large and medium-sized enterprises. The difficulties are beyond our imagination.

As experts from The Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development participated in the delegation, Azerbaijan warmly invited us to visit its offshore oil fields. China learned petroleum technology mainly from the Soviet Union and Romania. In the 1980s, China developed the technology by leaps and bounds and surpassed them in modern and scientific technology. China proposed to use China’s technology to regenerate waste oil fields with less investment and rejuvenate old oil fields.

We headed for the offshore platform in a Mi-8 helicopter. That was my first time taking a helicopter. The captain was hospitable and asked me to sit in the cockpit and fly with them.

There were many planes in the former Soviet Union, all made by themselves. I took an IL-86 from the Soviet Union flying from Beijing to Moscow. The plane looked very old, which could not be compared with China’s civil aviation conditions. However, China has bought its modernization with money. It is a country with a population of 1.2 billion, yet it does not have real aircraft and real cars of its own making. Fortunately, the development of Chinese shipbuilding is good. However, under such conditions, the service of Russians in civil aviation is still relatively good - good at piloting and landing, and other aspects.

Cars are seen everywhere in Russia, but there are no bicycles. Every family has cars. They are domestically made, and the quality is not that good. The living standard of us Chinese people is not high, yet we see high-end cars running on the streets. How’s that “serving people?”

At the offshore oil field, we finally knew what kind of steel superpower the Soviet Union once was. In the center of the Black Sea, there are steel oil production platforms everywhere, which were used for oil storage and oil-gas separation processing. Since there was no technology for drilling deviated wells and horizontal wells in those years, many distributed oil production holes were one or two kilometers apart. It would be better to build a road to connect them than to use oil tankers. Therefore, steel pipes were used to drive the piles to the seabed, the top of which were welded together with steel beams, and then cement and asphalt were paved on top to form a road. Cars were running above to transport goods and people. The offshore steel road connecting these platforms is 460 kilometers long. Our plane landed in a living area built on the sea, where workers live, rest, and lodge. I then truly understood what a steel superpower is. I'm glad that China’s oil exploitation technology has made progress. Otherwise, where could we possibly find so much steel.

China’s economy and Russia’s economy are highly complementary. We have formed a cross-century strategic partnership. China’s light industrial products and civil industrial products now have a broad market. With that, we can introduce Russia’s heavy industrial products. We can also rent land, raise cattle, chickens and grow vegetables in Russia... to improve Russia’s supply and earn the steel, cement, and chemical fertilizer we need. All honest Chinese people will make great achievements. Those unscrupulous businessmen shall not go there and tarnish the image of our nation.

Huawei will carry out economic cooperation and jointly develop and produce electronic information products in Russia. We can absorb Russia’s achievements in cutting-edge science and military science, and use them for civilian use to quickly improve ourselves.

We can also put our C&C08 (a digital SPC exchange researched and developed independently by HUAWEI in the early 1990s) which has reached an advanced level in the world, into the Russian market to compete for this big country in the world. Eastern Europe and Russia are still carrying out economic reforms, and the economy has begun to recover. We should observe the incidents in Eastern Europe from a positive point of view rather than sticking with a negative point of view.

After visiting Bulgaria and Romania, we returned to Moscow the day before the exhibition kicked off. The booth had been erected, all kinds of work had been carried out, the national flags of different countries have been hung, China’s five-star red flag was flying in the wind, 5000 sets of materials from Huawei had been sorted and stacked neatly, and various gifts had been classified and placed. Everything was ready for the opening.

How many people will visit Huawei’s exhibition after the opening? Is it not attractive since some people still look down on China? We hired Russian water ballet dancers as exhibition receptionists and Chinese students in Russia as interpreters. They were all practicing and rehearsing arduously, doing simulation training and language communication practices. I didn’t know if anyone would come tomorrow, and if the Chinese goods were still looked down upon.

Before the exhibition, we and the Chinese embassy invited officials from Russia’s communication bureau and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of the Russian science and Technology Commission. They all joked: what high technology does China have? Due to the invitation of the embassy, they still visited out of courtesy. They were all shocked to see how China’s communication technology could be so advanced and how it could reach such a high level without the help of the West.

The experts from the Information Office of the Russian President’s office quietly visited for more than half an hour and found that China was not as backward as they thought, so they showed their business cards and asked to see me. During more than half an hour when I accompanied them on the tour, they frequently expressed their appreciation for China’s accomplishments. They expressed admiration for the functions of C&C08, the completion of so many functions on one platform, and the fact that images, data, packet switching, and voice were all processed on the same platform They wanted to know more but needed to spare some time to take look at many other companies’ exhibition.

Just then, our receptionist realized he or she forgot to introduce the electricity consumption of the product, so the receptionist went up to them and said,” the electricity consumption of our standard C&C08C is only 60 amps and that of similar foreign models is 300 amps. Ours is five times lower.” The Russian experts said with a slight touch of humor, “Your machine is five times better than that in the West. We like it very much.”

Then Russian minister and vice-minister of Posts and Telecommunications also visited in the afternoon and spoke highly of it. In order to allow Russian reporters to have time to take photos, we shook hands for one minute. The minister kept saying that cooperation between China and Russia should be expanded and reminded us of finding Russian partners through the exhibition.

In the following three months, we successively sent three teams to Russia. The Russian Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications had better impressions about our company. The working conference of the Russian Minister of Posts and Telecommunications is equivalent to a symposium of Director-Generals in China, which specially invited us to participate. At the same time, only Finland and France were invited.

From the stereotypical, negative image of Chinese goods to this warm welcome, it shows that we have changed their impression and laid a good foundation for the Ninth International Communication Exhibition in Moscow next May. Our goal of entering the Russian market in three years is now of hope, and we are still making continuous efforts.

Russia is a big country, and it is not easy to accept a product. Our successful entry into the Hong Kong Telecom Network and our successful good start in Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia will also facilitate our entry into the British Telecom Network and the Russian Telecom Network. Huawei was competing with famous companies in developed countries overseas, which makes it difficult to achieve great results in a short time, and there will be many failures in the bidding process, but it has trained us, improved the technology of our products, which in turn has better served domestic users.

In the last few days after the exhibition, some world-famous companies, such as AT&T, came to ask for brochures. And we all generously provided them with the promotional materials. . Many Russian factories also expressed their desire for cooperation, and it was better and better for us. Chinese Ambassador Li to Russia and Secretary Luo under Chinese Ambassador Li to Georgia came to the exhibition. On this trip to Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia, Chinese embassy officials gave great help. Ambassador Lei to Azerbaijan, Secretary Qiao to Bulgaria, and Secretary Deng to Romania, especially the Science and Technology Department and the Education Department of the Chinese Embassy in Russia provided us with great help.

The full moon hasn’t risen yet, but the front half is there (due to their help). Many Russian and domestic news organizations in Moscow also came to visit and interview, and Moscow Radio also broadcast my speech. Tass News Agency and a number of Russian newspapers also reported it. People's Daily, Guangming Daily, People’s Post and Telecommunications News, Shenzhen Economic Daily, Shenzhen Special Zone Daily... all forwarded news stories with pictures. We wanted to impress the market, but the impression exceeded our expectations. The needs from China-Russia relations exceeded the needs of the market. We are proud of our motherland.

We held a grand celebration reception at the Ukrainian Hotel, and more than 100 distinguished guests attended the reception. The Russian Minister of Posts and Telecommunications sent a representative, and Counselor Zhang of the embassy gave a speech, which fully affirmed the success of Huawei’s exhibition. We won glory for the country. The Russian representative also spoke and fully affirmed the significance of the exhibition. The atmosphere was very good. Also present at the reception were the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications of Georgia and the post and telecommunications experts of Yugoslavia. Some Russian experts sang a song, everyone was singing in harmony, and the voice resonated at the bank of the Moscow river.

As soon as the exhibition closed, I hurried back to my motherland and didn’t go on vacation with our employees. I must see enough of the beautiful scenery of Russia one day.

With the improvement of Sino-Russia relations, the United States will realize that the earth is still rotating without it. China will certainly become rich and strong. The United States cannot contain China just as it wishes. Every country and every nation has its advantages. As long as we treat them correctly and learn from them, our nation will prosper.

Russia also has its defects. But, just as China’s fake and shoddy goods and illegal businessmen do not represent China, those defects do not represent Russia as well. Don’t focus on other people’s weaknesses - that is the tragedy of a nation.


Translated by Zhixin Wan, copyedited by Alexander Wang, and reviewed by Zichen Wang.

A guest post by
Journalism student at Tsinghua University. Ex intern at Bloomberg, China Central Television, and the UN. I write about China’s society, culture, and ordinary people in between.
A guest post by
Journalist from "China state-affiliated media"