THE HOUSE PERMANENT Select Subcommittee on Intelligence issued a report Oct. 8 that was quite unusual. The chairman, Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), and ranking minority member, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), declared that two Chinese telecommunication giants are a threat to U.S. national security because of their ties to the Chinese government, Communist Party and military, and they called on U.S. firms not to buy their wares.
The report aims squarely at Huawei, a corporate colossus that grew fast as China’s capitalism exploded in the last two decades. While it is a powerhouse in telecom equipment around the world, Huawei has run into roadblocks trying to enter the U.S. market, facing suspicions that it is a security risk. The committee said this was for good reason: Huawei and the other firm, ZTE, “cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence.” Moreover, inserting malicious hardware or software into products bound for the United States “could allow Beijing to shut down or degrade critical national security systems in a time of crisis or war,” the report said. Mr. Rogers expressed alarm about China putting a “bug, beacon or backdoor” into U.S. networks. And the report sharply criticized Huawei for “evasive, nonresponsive or incomplete answers to questions.”
These are all serious issues, but the committee’s unclassified report falls short. It offers no evidence of “bugs, beacons and backdoors.” The lawmakers say there is more information in a classified report, but we can’t see it. The committee is not alone in warning about risks from China in the telecom and electronics supply chain. But if there is a real threat, such an alarm would be a lot more credible with some evidence. Huawei insists it has done nothing improper, and would not.
The committee expressed frustration in trying to determine whether Huawei and ZTE are tightly interwoven with China’s political structure. The answer seems obvious; this is how China’s brand of state capitalism has evolved. The congressmen could have found the answer on the front page of The Post two years ago; in a dispatch from Shenzhen, correspondent John Pomfret noted that Huawei “has long benefited from an intimate relationship with the Chinese state.” Huawei is clearly more opaque than an American telecommunications firm of similar size and ambition. To compete here, it will need to become more transparent and confront squarely the questions about its governance, financing, military ties and products.
Yet what this episode demonstrates more than anything else is the vast gap in trust between the United States and China. Americans are furious at China’s wanton theft of intellectual property and espionage through cybernetworks. In China, these complaints have been met with stonewalling for too long. China fails to grasp how the cyberheist has aggravated those who were robbed, driving deep resentment at firms such as Huawei.
It has always been difficult for foreigners to change China. But if China can change itself and dial back the largest cyberespionage operation in the world, then perhaps someday Huawei will be seen in a different light, too.