Huawei’s in the headlines again – as scrutiny is placed on the Chinese company by the Intelligence and Security Committee – with the usual accusations of links with the Chinese state and secret surveillance dredged up yet again. But what does the government suspect Huawei is up to, and how does that compare with we know about the British government?
The BBC claimed the filtering system proposed by David Cameron would be controlled wholly by Huawei, citing how it recently emerged the company designed Talk Talk’s web filtering system, Homesafe.
That didn’t really just emerge at all – and has, in fact, been public knowledge for some time.
The panic is that Huawei will have full control over Cameron’s proposed opt-out porn filters, but in light of recent relevations about the British state, the concerns are deeply hypocritical and stink of jumped up paranoia, ignoring the more widespread, grave questions about the secret surveillance state erected in the UK.
First, some background. Huawei has long had a relationship with the United Kingdom. It has also frequently been the target of the American network lobby and US neo-McCarthyism.
Huawei has been the go-to Chinese boogeyman for American lawmakers.
Citing spying concerns, there have been efforts to restrict the use of goods from Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE. Perhaps for good reason: there have been murmurings of backdoors discovered in Huawei routers and ZTE was flagged for selling surveillance capable equipment to Iran. But there has not been any solid evidence about Huawei to date.
It’s a complicated question that is tied to the global productive process, where it is cheaper and more cost productive to produce in, and buy from, countries such as China.
Other US lawmakers alleged that Huawei could be receiving funding from state owned Bank of China, which would mark it as in breach of anticompetition laws. Although not precisely comparable, US and European bank bailouts with state money let these institutions continue selling and speculating their financial products on the world stage, and when US companies such as Google, Microsoft or Intel are flagged the penalties are so minimal compared to their profits they amount to being slapped with a wet bus ticket.
China’s long history of web monitoring and censorship provides an easy backdrop to scapegoat these companies. But who benefits most from a blockade on these goods? Could it be… American networking companies?
The constant whispers among the networking giants such as Cisco and Juniper are that companies such as Huawei essentially use the wonders of a globalised free market against them. They (it has been alleged) buy up American kit and reverse engineer it with cheaper components, then flood emerging markets with affordable kit that prices American corporations out of the market. Huawei proudly boasts it has an extensive patent portfolio of its own.
In recession, it is tempting for Western private enterprise to use the products too. Indeed, Huawei has an established market presence across Europe and in Australia. It is understandable companies like Cisco would be terrified of Huawei touching their profits.
To further complicate, or clarify – depending on your perspective – Cisco’s CEO is the politically active Republican donor John Chambers, who has pledged over $1 million to various political causes.
If Chinese enterprise is indeed funded by the government, in the United States it is the other way around.
A thorough response comes in the form of this open letter from Huawei’s Ken Hu, part of the company’s drive to address the criticisms levied against it.
It includes clarifications about CEO Ren Zhengfei’s time in the People’s Liberation Army, funding from the Chinese government, and the allegations of intellectual property infringement. In each case, it compares itself to accepted business practices from non-Chinese companies.
Critics will say Huawei’s resistance to an Initial Public Offering is evidence of its lack of transparency. But in fact it’s possible the company is guarding itself from the volatile markets and hostile forces within those markets.
Speaking of markets – attempts to block Huawei in the USA don’t seem to be particularly damaging. Although, as it is a corporation, it would naturally like access to all markets, a scramble for Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe and Latin America has ensured Huawei will be lucrative with or without US cooperation.
Huawei already has links to the western networking companies. Have a quick look at a list of corporate execs and you’ll see plenty of ex-Ciscoers on board. In effect, Huawei is winning at capitalism, an intriguing turn for a company that claims to be a collective in a country that claims to be communist.
Not only does Huawei have the hiring power to headhunt execs with the relevant knowledge on how to capture crucial – booming – emerging markets and established Western markets, it also has links with ex government forces here in the UK. With Prime Ministerial permission, ex UK CIO John Suffolk publicly posted on his blog that he was to join Huawei.
The stated purpose of Huawei’s Banbury cyber security centre was to soothe fears of ‘Red’ China snooping on these green and pleasant lands. It was opened with the blessing and cooperation of GCHQ, Britain’s spying agency, to vet and test Huawei equipment for its spying capabilities.
Presumably with the view to removing any indiscrepancies, but, hey, you never know.
A former deputy director at GCHQ is now, the Times reports, on Huawei’s payroll. It cannot be a wholly mysterious entity to British intelligence.
Huawei and Five – why Huawei, and why now?
Considering what is now public knowledge about the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand with their ‘Five Eyes’ prograame, British Tempora and the USA’s Prism, this fuss about Huawei is certainly cropping up at an interesting time.
A D-Notice was issued to the UK nationals politely asking them to drop reporting on the Snowden revelations. Although D-Notices aren’t enforced by law, they exist to tell the press to drop a particular story, especially if it is a matter of defending the national interest.
Before the Edward Snowden story was transformed into a fugitive drama, Snowden’s revelations revealed something much more meaty.
The UK, in cooperation with other English speaking countries, was spying on an absolutely unprecedented scale with some pretty impressive feats of engineering. GCHQ, an exclusive Guardian report revealed, was tapping international fibre-optic cables to collect and store “vast quantities of global email messages, Facebook posts, internet histories and calls”, sharing them with the USA’s National Security Agency.
So what do we know about GCHQ and the NSA, and what are we speculating about with Huawei?
The fear is that Huawei equipment in every home could lead to widespread intelligence gathering by the Chinese government. This is possible but not proven.
The fact is that the UK, the USA, New Zealand, Canada and Australia are conspiring, worldwide, to track and store information of citizens worldwide. This is proven.
Why, now, is Huawei being targeted by the British media as part of Cameron’s ill thought out, unpopular and technically impossible filtering system?
The focus is shifted from Cameron’s arrogant censorship posturing and onto the mysterious, foreign Huawei.
We should be asking, in light of the Snowden revelations, where our representatives, our governments, in our names, have embarked on a program of blanket surveillance – effectively treating us all as suspected criminals – where is the transparency with government? Because we, as citizens, could benefit a lot more from that than speculation about Huawei.