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October 1, 2021updated 14 Nov 2021 2:17pm

Image problems: Senior BBC exec Gavin Allen takes role at Huawei

By Elles Houweling

Chinese networking equipment titan Huawei has recruited Gavin Allen, former head of BBC news programmes, as its “executive editor in chief”, marking yet another achievement for the company’s high-profile international hiring scheme. Huawei recently also welcomed award-winning French mathematician Laurent Lafforgue to the company.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Allen led the BBC news output for seven years before starting at Huawei on Tuesday. He was in charge of many of the UK’s most influential news programmes, including the Today programme, the 6 and 10 o’clock TV news, Question Time, the BBC News channel, The Andrew Marr Show and Breakfast TV. He was also part of the upper management of the BBC, “as a core member of the News Board and a member of the pan-BBC Senior Executive Group”. In a post he wrote:

“Nǐ hǎo Huawei. I’m delighted to be joining the global tech company today as their Executive Editor in Chief.”

He also said that he had studied Chinese history and is “falteringly learning Mandarin”.

“Now hugely proud to be part of a world-class ICT organisation which truly values collaboration and innovation: a creative force for good. And no excuses now for not improving that Mandarin…,” Allen added. The former BBC chief is a Cambridge graduate and public schoolboy (that is, he attended an expensive fee-paying independent school, in his case Oundle School in Northamptonshire).

In early September, the French Institute of Advanced Science (IHES) announced on its official website that Laurent Lafforgue, a permanent professor of the French Academy of Sciences, had joined Huawei Technologies France to engage in basic research. The Fields Medal winner had previously cooperated with Huawei for four years.

Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei had previously announced that the company would recruit more international talent by offering higher salaries than the market standard.

“We must open our minds, emancipate our minds and dare to attract the best talents in the world,” he said, adding that the company was at a critical point of strategic survival and development, hinting at the disruption caused by US trade sanctions and its exclusion from 5G rollouts in many Western nations.

“To be in line with international standards and to attract the best talent, salary standards must be higher than in each individual country,” Ren added.

A few years ago, Ren stated in an interview that the company put a strong emphasis on scientific research. He said that it is not enough to have money to develop chips. It also needs mathematicians, physicists and chemists. Huawei employs an impressive number of scientists, including over 700 mathematicians, 800 physicists, 120 chemists, more than 6,000 experts specialising in basic research and over 60,000 engineers.

Huawei and the BBC have in recent times experienced a strained relationship. Last year, BBC World News was taken off the air in China after the UK revoked the broadcasting license for the Chinese state-backed English language network CGTN in February.

China’s foreign minister issued a statement justifying the BBC’s removal, accusing the network of pushing “fake news” in its Covid-19 reporting. Subsequently, Beijing demanded an apology and said that the broadcaster had politicised the pandemic and “rehashed theories about covering up by China”.

The relationship between Huawei and the UK has also been strained. Following US sanctions, the UK eventually decided to exclude the Chinese telecoms equipment provider from its 5G network rollout. Huawei equipment is set to be completely removed from 5G networks in the country by 2027.

By the end of 2020, Huawei had 197,000 employees worldwide, spanning 162 different countries, according to GlobalData’s Intelligence Center.

Last week, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou returned to China after reaching an agreement with US prosecutors who had been seeking her extradition from Canada. Upon her arrival, Meng was welcomed at the airport in Shenzhen by countless supporters who had shown up to show their support for her and for Huawei. The rocky relationship between the Chinese company and Western governments has become an issue of patriotism for many Chinese citizens.

October 1 is China’s national day, which is connected to the annual Golden Week celebrations. During this seven-day holiday period, many Chinese people travel around the country. However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, citizens are still unable to leave China.