Huawei Technologies has been one of the most successful Chinese conglomerates of the modern era. The telecoms company recently surpassed Apple as the world’s second-biggest supplier of cellphones globally. As a key part of Beijing’s “digital Silk Road” initiative, it claims that its services are used in more than 170 countries.
But the company is attracting growing scrutiny internationally. A number of governments are concerned that the company may still have ties with the Chinese security services — prompting a number of those governments to put the company under scrutiny. There are particular concerns about the use of Huawei’s technology in upgrades to fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks.
The company’s background is another factor that worries some governments. Huawei was founded by Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer in China’s People’s Liberation Army, in the 1980s. It has become notorious for its military-like corporate culture.
Though the privately owned company denies there is any threat of spying and says it operates under the rule of law in the countries where it has a presence, pressure on Huawei has increased recently as the United States has pushed its allies to think twice about using Huawei’s technology. Here is how some countries are dealing with the perceived national security threat from Huawei.
The United States
U.S. skepticism of Huawei goes back to at least 2012, when the House Intelligence Committee issued a report that said that the company’s equipment could be used to spy on Americans and should be deemed a national security threat.
After that, most U.S. firms avoided the use of its technology, though the company does have a small American presence. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is facing bipartisan pressure from lawmakers to look into Huawei’s research partnerships with U.S. entities, for example.
In addition to scrutiny of its role in potential espionage, the company has also been accused of violating U.S. sanctions laws: In 2016 it was subpoenaed by the Commerce and Treasury departments over possible violations of sanctions on the export or re-export of U.S. technology to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
Last month, at the request of the U.S. government, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou as she changed flights in Vancouver. Meng, daughter of the company’s founder, faces extradition to the United States, where she is expected to face charges on sanctions violations concerning Iran.
Canada’s arrest of Meng has sparked a diplomatic standoff with Beijing, and soon afterward, a number of Canadian citizens in China were placed under arrest. The Canadian government is also facing bipartisan pressure from the United States to block Huawei technology from its 5G network infrastructure.
“These Chinese telecom companies are directly influenced by the Chinese government. They are not necessarily direct arms of the government,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) told CBC News last week. “The government and the Communist Party [have] the ability to influence their capabilities.”
U.S. lawmakers have said they are concerned about Huawei in Canada, as the U.S. telecoms system is intertwined with Canada’s. The Canadian government has said speculation that it would ban Huawei and other Chinese tech firms was speculation.
Polish authorities announced this week that they had detained an employee of Huawei and charged him with spying on behalf of China. A Polish citizen who worked for the company’s main business partner in the country was also arrested.
The moves are especially notable as Huawei had a considerable footprint in Poland, which had not limited its partnership with the company in the way some other European nations have. Last year, the Polish government said it would collaborate with the company on a 5G cellular network.
Poland’s counterintelligence agency told reporters that it searched Huawei’s Polish offices Tuesday and seized documents and electronics.
In August, the Australian government announced it was barring Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE, from providing 5G technology in the country. In later comments, a top Australian intelligence official explained that the technology involved in 5G networks was what made Huawei a potential security threat to the country.
“This is about more than just protecting the confidentiality of our information — it is also about integrity and availability of the data and systems on which we depend. Getting security right for our critical infrastructure is paramount,” Australian Signals Directorate director-general Mike Burgess told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s national security dinner in October.
Authorities in New Zealand followed Australia’s lead in November and banned the use of Huawei’s 5G equipment in the country. A local company named Spark New Zealand announced Nov. 28 that its proposal to use the Chinese technology had been blocked by the director general of the Government Communications Security Bureau, New Zealand’s national security agency.
“The Director-General has informed Spark today that he considers Spark’s proposal to use Huawei 5G equipment in Spark’s planned 5G RAN would, if implemented, raise significant national security risks,” Spark New Zealand said in a statement.
Though the firms were not named directly, the Japanese government in December effectively banned Huawei and ZTE from official contracts in the country. “In order to secure cybersecurity, we are aware that it is extremely important to make sure we would not procure equipment with functions of malicious intention,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a news conference Monday.
Kyodo News later reported that the big three telecom operators in Japan — NTT Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank — also would not use technology from Huawei and ZTE in their networks.