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MPs challenge Huawei over spying allegations

The chair of the cross-bench Science and Technology Committee has written to Huawei seeking answers over its activities in the UK

Norman Lamb, the chair of the cross-bench Science and Technology Committee, has written to Huawei’s executive director and carrier business group CEO Ryan Ding, asking him to respond to a series of questions over Huawei’s activities in the UK, and whether or not the networking supplier poses a threat to national security.

The move comes as the row surrounding Huawei’s alleged ties to the Chinese government, questions over its capacity to enable China to conduct espionage activities in the UK, and the December 2018 arrest of its CFO in Canada rages on.

In the past few months, multiple countries, including prominent UK allies and members of the so-called Five Eyes group of countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US), have taken action to strip back Huawei’s exposure to critical national infrastructure, or ban the organisation from their shores altogether.

In response, Huawei has deployed a major charm offensive with the western media, with current rotating chairman Guo Ping specifically addressing the issue in a New Year message.

In his letter, Lamb noted the various bans, as well as reports from the UK’s Huawei Cybersecurity Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) Oversight Board – a UK government-backed oversight body which reports on the Huawei-backed HCSEC – which has identified some areas of risk around Huawei’s activities.

He also raised concerns about the Chinese government’s 2017 National Intelligence Law legislation, and whether or not it places requirements on Chinese companies to assist in intelligence work.

Lamb has asked Ding what reassurances Huawei can offer to demonstrate its products and services do not pose a threat to the UK’s national security; how it plans to respond to actions being taken over its involvement in critical communications networks by other western countries; how it plans to respond to the July 2018 HCSEC Oversight Board report; and to what extent it might be compelled by Beijing to assist its intelligence agencies.

Lamb has also written under separate cover to culture secretary Jeremy Wright, defence secretary Gavin Williamson, and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, seeking additional clarification on how the government assesses and manages the potential risk posed by foreign network equipment suppliers; how reliant British communications networks are on foreign products; to what extent the government can assure the security of critical networks if they are being run by private companies; how it has assessed the extent to which China might compel its companies to assist in espionage; and how it is responding to the HCSEC reports.

Huawei may quit unfriendly countries

Meanwhile, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Huawei’s chairman Liang Hua made a veiled threat to withdraw altogether from markets where the firm is not welcomed.

According to the BBC, Liang made the remarks during a group session with a number of reporters covering the annual event in Switzerland.

He said Huawei was committed to its £3bn investment in the UK, but that if it faced additional restrictions it “would transfer the technology partnership to countries where we are welcomed, and we can have collaboration with”.

Liang added that concerned parties would be welcome to inspect Huawei’s research and development (R&D) facilities in China if they wanted to.

Ren speaks

The latest developments come shortly after Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, who very rarely speaks out, broke cover to answer questions from media outlets over the situation.

During a wide-ranging panel session, Ren revealed that he had initially been deemed undesirable as a member of the Communist Party of China due to his family background. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, his father was deemed a Capitalist Roader, which at the time referred to someone who, if unchecked, would try to pull China back towards a free market economy. Mao Zedong deemed his eventual successor Deng Xaoping, widely credited with opening up China in the 1980s, as a Capitalist Roader.

“Over the past 30 years, our products have been used in more than 170 countries and regions, serving more than three billion users in total. We have maintained a solid track record in security. Huawei is an independent business organisation,” said Ren.

“When it comes to cyber security and privacy protection, we are committed to siding with our customers. We will never harm any nation or any individual. Secondly, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has officially clarified that no law in China requires any company to install backdoors. Neither Huawei, nor I personally, have ever received any requests from any government to provide improper information,” he added.

“The values of a business entity are such that it must be customer-centric and the customer always comes first. We are a business organisation, so we must follow business rules. Within that context, I can’t see close connections between my personal political beliefs and the business actions we are going to take as a business entity,” said Ren.

“We will certainly say no to any such request. After writing this quote in your story, maybe 20 or 30 years down the road, if I am still alive, people will consider this quote and check my behaviour against it.”

Ren also addressed questions over the fate of his daughter and Huawei CFO, Meng Wanzhou, who is currently being held in Canada while the US seeks extradition alleging breaches of sanctions against Iran.

“As Meng Wanzhou’s father, I miss her very much. And I’m deeply grateful to the fairness of the honourable justice, William Ehrcke. I’m also much grateful to prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley and prosecutor Kerri Swift. I also thank the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women for its humane management. Thanks to Meng Wanzhou’s cellmates, for treating her kindly,” he said.

“I also appreciate the consular protection that the Chinese government has provided in safeguarding the rights and interests of Meng Wanzhou as a Chinese citizen. I trust that the legal systems of Canada and the United States are open, just and fair, and will reach a just conclusion.”

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