Some Chinese high-tech companies may be bigger than you think. The e-commerce giant Alibaba has a market capitalization of over $400 billion. The social media and gaming company Tencent is not far behind, and nearly a billion people use its WeChat messaging service. Baidu is the world’s second largest search engine, and is increasingly strong in the key sector of artificial intelligence. Despite their size, these companies are largely invisible in the West because their massive successes are almost entirely restricted to China.
That’s partly because they offer software and services, neither of which travel particularly well thanks to the cultural baggage they bring with them. Chief among those is that the Chinese government has access to all of a company’s user data, and can impose any restrictions that it wishes on the use of software and services, as this blog reported earlier this year. More recently, Alibaba was instructed to remove unauthorized VPNs from its Taobao e-commerce platform. These are not aspects that are likely to endear Chinese software and services companies to Western users worried about privacy and censorship.
But there is another Chinese IT giant – Huawei – still relatively unfamiliar in the West, that is having far more luck in selling its products into markets outside China. It has achieved that because it is a company that produces hardware based on international standards, and largely running open source software. As well as the general benefits of adopting open standards and open source, this approach may also be an attempt to allay earlier fears that Huawei hardware might contain backdoors available to the Chinese government.
In the West, Huawei is probably best known for its mobile phones. Recent market research suggests that it has overtaken Apple as the world’s second-biggest smartphone manufacturer by sales after Samsung, with