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Ryan Ding, president of Huawei’s carrier business group, has written to MP Norman Lamb, chair of the cross-party Science and Technology Committee, to insist that his company has never, is not now, and never will use its technology to assist the Chinese government with its intelligence-gathering activities in the UK, or any other country.
Ding was responding to a letter sent by Lamb on 23 January 2019, in which he asked Huawei what reassurances it could offer to demonstrate that its products and services do not pose a threat to the UK’s national security; how it planned to respond to actions being taken over its involvement in critical communications networks by other western countries; how it planned 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.
The letter was sent in response to a gathering storm of controversy over the use of Huawei’s equipment in critical national networks both in the UK and abroad – with BT taking steps to remove Huawei hardware from the core of EE’s 4G network, and Vodafone temporarily suspending its use of Huawei equipment, among many others.
Huawei’s full response to Lamb’s questions, which can be read online here, set out the company’s position in detail.
“Huawei has never and will never use UK-based hardware, software or information gathered in the UK, or anywhere else globally, to assist other countries in gathering intelligence,” wrote Ding. “We would not do this in any country.
“Huawei is a closely-watched company. We have 180,000 employees and tens of thousands of partners, and we are subject to extensive regulatory oversight in numerous countries around the globe.
“Were Huawei ever to engage in malicious behaviour, it would not go unnoticed and it would certainly destroy our business.”
Ding added: “For us, it is a matter of security or nothing; there is no third option. We choose to ensure security.”
Ding was responding to specific questions about China’s controversial 2017 National Intelligence Law, which contains provisions granting sweeping powers to the country’s state intelligence services.
He noted that the Chinese government itself had clarified this law and did not oblige any technology company to install backdoors in its equipment. Legal advice from Chinese law firm Zhong Lun, reviewed by the UK’s Clifford Chance firm, had confirmed that no statute appeared to empower Chinese authorities to force them to do so, or to do so under their own initiative, wrote Ding.
“We would like to reiterate that Huawei has never received any such requests and in the event that we did receive this type of request, we would categorically refuse to comply with it,” he said.
“We would never compromise or harm any country, organisation or individual, especially when it comes to cyber security and user privacy protection. This includes the UK.”
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Ding offered further reassurances that Chinese criminal law contains no statutes that indicate a company can be held criminally responsible for refusing to comply with requests for backdoors to be installed, and so the company could not be forced to comply under threat of prosecution.
He went on to assert that the nature of actions being taken against Huawei in allied western countries were somewhat exaggerated.
Ding said that out of the Anglophone Five Eyes alliance, Australia has so far only raised extra requirements for the supply of networking products, Canada has not yet taken any restrictive measures, New Zealand has turned down only one request, and the US only forbids the use of federal funds to buy Huawei equipment, which means its products can be sold freely to private companies and individuals.
He also pointed to Huawei’s 20-year track record of stable and secure network provision, the extensive use of its equipment in networks around the world without incident, and the hiring of former UK government CIO John Suffolk as its global security chief as further evidence of its good intentions.
Regarding the Huawei Oversight Board report, Ding said the organisation welcomed the most recent report, recognised that there were areas of its software engineering capabilities that needed improvement, and reiterated that it means to spend $2bn between now and 2024 to address this.
“The UK is an important strategic market for Huawei,” said Ding. “We are working closely with the UK government and operators to identify and address any concerns about network equipment deployed in the UK.
“We are ready and willing to take on any technical challenges to meet the economic and security needs of the UK.
“We have full confidence in the UK market, which provides one of the most favourable business environments in the world.”
Meanwhile, concern over Huawei continues to mount. In the past few days alone, Danish authorities expelled two Huawei staffers from the country, claiming their residence and work permits were not in order.
In Norway, Benedicte Bjornland, head of the Norwegian domestic intelligence unit, PST, warned that Huawei could be “subject to influence from its home country as long as China has an intelligence law that requires private individuals, entities and companies to co-operate with China”.
In the UK, draft documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph this week suggested that, contrary to Ding’s assertions, Huawei has failed to address the concerns raised in 2018 by the Oversight Board, and that this year’s report will be more damning.