People at the new Huawei flagship store during its official opening on June 24 2020 in Shanghai, China. Picture: VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES/LONG WEI
People at the new Huawei flagship store during its official opening on June 24 2020 in Shanghai, China. Picture: VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES/LONG WEI

Shanghai — Chinese telecoms giant Huawei opened its largest store in Shanghai on Wednesday, part of plans to strengthen its brand in its core Chinese consumer market as it faces headwinds overseas.

Hundreds of mask-wearing customers queued up to enter the 5,000m2 store — Huawei’s largest — on the city’s busiest shopping street and directly across from a retail outlet of rival Apple.

Company representatives said Huawei intends to open several more such stores in China in the coming year to showcase its smartphones and other consumer tech, plans they said were conceived before the US government launched a worldwide campaign against the firm about 18 months ago.

Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecoms network equipment and its number two smartphone maker.

The Trump administration accuses Huawei of stealing US trade secrets and says its telecoms equipment could be used by Beijing for espionage. Washington has essentially banned Huawei from the US market, urged other countries to shun its network gear, and is seeking to cut it off from global semiconductor suppliers.

The international rancour was on retiree Chen Yannian’s mind as he shopped for a new cellphone. “To be honest, with the US suppressing Huawei, we must support Huawei.” He also cited the ongoing detention in Canada of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou — daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei. She is fighting a US extradition request related to charges that Huawei violated Iran sanctions.

“America is not only suppressing Huawei, but all of China,” Chen said. “If we can, we should try our best to support patriotism, right?”

Huawei had a commanding 42.6% share of China’s total smartphone market in the first quarter of 2020, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC). But it said Huawei could face stiffening competition in the growing 5G phone segment from cheaper rivals.

The US also has barred Huawei from using Google’s Android operating system, meaning the company now faces the challenge of building a following for its home-grown alternative system HarmonyOS in a world dominated by Android and Apple’s iOS.

Like its rivals, Huawei revenue also has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, growing just 1.4% in the first quarter, down from 39 % growth in the second quarter of 2019.

Huawei denies the US security-threat allegations, saying Washington has never provided evidence and that American pressure is motivated by fear of falling behind rising Chinese tech companies.

Last month, Huawei said that US efforts to cut off access to semiconductor supplies could threaten the company’s “survival”.