Who Owns Huawei?

Who owns Huawei? American officials have long claimed the controversial telecommunications giant belongs to the Chinese state, while Huawei has long called itself a “private company wholly owned by its employees.” Huawei states that its founder, Ren Zhengfei, owns roughly 1 percent of the company, and a trade union jointly controlled by the company’s employees owns the rest. The question of who owns Huawei is key. If the Chinese state owns Huawei, then not only has the company been lying for years, but it means that the Party has more control over Huawei than previously thought.

In an important new paper, the scholars Donald Clarke and Christopher Balding investigate the intricacies of the company’s complicated ownership structure. If the trade union “function[s] as trade unions generally function in China,” the authors write, “then Huawei may be deemed effectively state-owned.”

Despite the press coverage Huawei has received since the arrest of CFO Meng Wanzhou in December, the company remains poorly understood. This paper does an excellent job of making Huawei’s opaque governance structure slightly more visible.

Isaac Stone Fish