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Huawei courts Wynne with a futuristic vision she ‘could not have imagined’

Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne, right, speaks next to Premier of Prince Edward Island Robert Ghiz during a news conference at the Chinese People Association for friendship in Beijing, China Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014.

Andy Wong/AP

The Huawei presentation centre sits in a drab neighbourhood on the outskirts of China's capital, down the road from military installations, low-slung office buildings and a couple of slums.

But inside, it looks nothing like its surroundings. Thirty-foot marble columns adorn the front atrium; in the main hall, a concave, ribbed ceiling glows LED-blue, with matching light strips built into the floor underneath. The aesthetic is Greek Temple meets Stanley Kubrick.

Into this edifice last weekend strode Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, cabinet ministers Brad Duguid and Michael Chan and a large Ontario trade mission. Huawei brass took the Canadians through displays of computer chips and smartphones, explaining the company's efforts to craft 5G technology. A massive screen demonstrated how 5G would let you connect nearly everything you own – from your phone to your car to your fridge – into a powerful network, and control them all with a computer. Much of this technology will be developed in Ontario, where the company had just announced a $210-million investment in a research facility.

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The ostentatious display was part of Huawei's full-court, public-relations press to win over the West – a major imperative for a firm with some significant image problems.

Officials in the United States and Canada have fretted the company is too close with China's dictatorship, and its software could be used by Beijing for espionage. Government documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through an access to information request in 2012 showed Canada's cryptologic agency, the Communications Security Establishment, was wary.

In an interview, Huawei Canada president Sean Yang rejected such concerns. He said Canadian telcos that work with his company can examine its technology and check it themselves for security risks.

"Since we started operations in Canada, we have worked very closely with our carrier partners, very open, very transparently … we don't think security is an issue," he said.

Added Scott Bradley, the company's Canadian public relations chief: "The carriers have full access to our gear. There is nothing they don't have access to."

Back at Huawei's presentation centre, such matters did not appear to be on the minds of the Ontario delegation. After the tour wrapped up, Huawei staff led them into a large hall with marble floors and walls, and sat them at a long table.

"We are extremely proud of the relationship we have been able to build with the province of Ontario," said Philip Jiang, Huawei's head of government relations. "Your support has been vital."

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Responded Ms. Wynne: "It is remarkable what you are doing here. I feel very much that we are seeing a future … I could not have imagined."

As the speeches finished, Huawei offered the politicians a gift: copies of computer chips designed in Ottawa. On cue, Chinese classical music filled the air. Waiters appeared with flutes of champagne. The self-contained opulence of this place was enough, for a moment, to make you forget your surroundings.

But play with the Huawei devices on display two rooms over and you would quickly be reminded you were in an authoritarian state. If you tried to navigate to Google, you would find the site blocked by government censors.

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