The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently charged Chinese telecommunications company Huawei with violating sanctions against Iran and stealing trade secrets from an American mobile carrier. Many believe that this will trigger increased media coverage about the firm and eventually expose the relationship between Huawei and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), making other countries understand the risks of allowing the company to operate freely in their backyards.
Risks with Huawei
If a country chooses to let Huawei set up their 5G network and engages in other business where the company collects data about citizens, there is a real possibility that Huawei will hand over the data to the Chinese regime.
“It is public record that under Chinese cybersecurity law, Chinese companies like Huawei are required to provide, essentially, access upon demand [to the government] with little to no process to challenge that… So that’s why it creates the national-security implications that we’re concerned about,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement (The Epoch Times).
Failure to comply with the government will result in some unpleasant consequences. As such, Huawei is in no position to assure countries that it does not act on behalf of the Chinese regime. Even if it says so, it will simply be an empty promise.
This is the reason why Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) recently decided to increase the scrutiny of investments by Chinese private companies. Since these firms are not free from CCP control, FIRB has decided to treat them like state-owned companies. Moving forward, many countries, including the U.S., will likely adopt FIRB’s stance and consider Chinese businesses like Huawei to be CCP-influenced entities. This will inevitably affect Huawei’s worldwide market prospects severely.
Another major risk factor with Huawei comes from its potential involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative (also known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project). In March 2015, the Chinese government released a directive about the goals of OBOR, with two main objectives being the construction of transnational fiber optics for communications and “synchronizing technological standards” between China and the rest of the countries.
Since OBOR projects will require modern communications technology to link the railways, airports, roads, and oil pipelines, Huawei is expected to be heavily involved. Huawei will be used for laying underwater cables spanning thousands of miles in the development of smart cities, energy projects, and so on. In short, Huawei will be present in almost every aspect of the OBOR network.
This gives the company access to tons of data, like information about shipping and transportation statistics between nations, Internet messages between various businesses that use Huawei’s network, and so on. If the CCP gets ahold of such information, they can use it to skew international trade in their favor. And this risk exists as long as Chinese policy mandates that private firms like Huawei hand over data when asked by the CCP.
Huawei and the CCP
Huawei has a very deep connection with the CCP. Its founder, Ren Zhengfei, has a background in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The chairwoman of the company, Sun Yafang, is believed to have been involved in the Ministry of State Security (MSS).
Sun’s position in the company is said to be so powerful that she once pressured Ren into abandoning the plan of promoting his son as the heir of Huawei. Many see this as a sign that the Chinese regime’s intelligence agency has firm control over the company.
When the CCP decided to implement the “Great Firewall” to block people from accessing foreign websites and to monitor their online activity, it was Huawei that played a major role in building the infrastructure and upgrading it over the years. The company was also involved in the development of the Golden Shield Project that allowed the Party to establish complete online surveillance over its citizens.
Given that Huawei willingly participated in repressing the people of China, it is no wonder that democratic countries find it difficult to trust the company to respect the privacy of their citizens as long as it remains a puppet of the CCP.