The main accusations behind Huawei’s blacklist in the United States, that the company is controlled by Beijing and spies on them if requested, have always been denied. But lurking behind those allegations is something darker, something more difficult to ignore. And that is now becoming a serious new problem for the company, at the risk of damaging the company’s plans, ensuring a great victory for the US.
Last November, I reported on Huawei’s “darkest secret”, its work with authorities in China’s Xinjiang region, where the oppression of its Uighur Muslim minority has been condemned worldwide. A leak of classified Chinese government documents that became known as the “Cables of China” was followed by a shocking report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) on the leading companies whose technology enabled that oppression.
Huawei has always admitted that its technology has been implemented by third parties in Xinjiang, but has denied its direct involvement. ASPI stated that this is not true. “Huawei’s work in Xinjiang is extensive,” he said, “and includes working directly with the Chinese government’s public security offices in the region.”
The first time I reported on Huawei’s ties to Xinjiang earlier last year, including the strategic cooperation agreement between the Xinjiang Public Security Department and Huawei, and the launch of Huawei’s Urumqi DevCloud to “promote the development of the software information industry in Urumqi district. “
In signing that strategic cooperation agreement, a company representative said Huawei “will provide industry-leading products and services and cooperate extensively with local high-tech companies to build a safer and smarter partnership with the security department. of the autonomous region. ” “The building of Xinjiang’s” safer and smarter society “has been widely reported.
When asked about that ASPI report, a Huawei spokesman would not go into detail, he simply said that the company “reaffirms that its technology, which is general-purpose and based on global standards, complies with all applicable laws where for sale. Huawei does not operate safe city networks on behalf of any customer. ” The applicable laws in Xinjiang implicitly support the alleged arrest and indoctrination of millions of Uighurs.
In November, ASPI urged countries around the world to take into account Huawei’s “Xinjiang activities during discussions on 5G technologies.” And while Xinjiang’s accusations have brought the broader claims of the United States to the second stage, it now appears that Xinjiang is about to become critical.
Now, as reported by both Daily mail and Daily telegraph, politicians in the UK plan to use these claims to compel the government to reverse its decision to allow Huawei a role in the deployment of its 5G network.
The controversial decision, confirmed in January, has always been threatened by a forced review. Shifting views on China in light of COVID-19’s alleged misinformation, and the latest U.S. sanctions, potentially introducing new security vulnerabilities to Huawei equipment, have fueled the blaze. Nothing new has happened in Xinjiang, but the calculation is that claims against Huawei can be used to force the government’s hand. This would be, the Telegraph he explains, being a “coup de grace for Huawei’s participation in the UK’s 5G network”.
The current legislation that the UK House of Lords is trying to amend is an extremely niche, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill (Leased Property) sets the rules for channeled Internet connections in apartment blocks, from everything. But it is being used as a convenient convenience. According to media reports, the government is now fighting to avoid defeat.
There are a whole series of complexities and ironies in this latest development. For example, citing human rights instead of US security concerns will be a much more populist movement, one more likely for cross-party support. It also changes policy for a UK government caught between threats from both of them Washington and Beijing, pulling a country under pressure in two opposite directions.
Then there is the fact that by blacklisting other Chinese companies, Washington has been much more explicit about Xinjiang than has historically been the case with its campaign against Huawei. This carries a risk for Huawei that millions of consumers in the UK and elsewhere may be driven by media coverage of human rights allegations of moving away from the brand.
However, the biggest irony concerns Huawei and its relationship with the Chinese government. One cannot help but assume that Huawei would openly distance itself from Xinjiang if it could. But doing it publicly would reject Beijing, apparently contradicting the government’s claims that the authoritarian regime is about fighting terrorism and public security, and has been misinformed abroad. And the US blacklist has greatly increased Huawei’s exposure to its home market, significantly reducing its international coverage. You cannot afford to risk such a slight.
The UK’s 5G network is totemic for Huawei. A cornerstone of its European market, the country is widely regarded as the most adept at dealing with Huawei’s alleged security concerns. Parallel to this latest move, the UK is already studying whether there are new security concerns emerging from the United States that deny Huawei’s access to American chip technology, forcing it to look for alternatives that may raise new concerns.
But, as with the “anger” of the United States this week over Huawei’s plans to develop a major R&D facility near the UK’s leading Cambridge University, most of this seems to escape any kind of popular concern in the UK and more broadly in Europe, complicating politics. Perhaps these human rights claims, which have been lurking in the background for years, will be different.
In response to these new reports, a Huawei spokesperson reiterated the position he had assigned me last year and told me: “We supply world-leading telecommunications equipment to mobile and broadband network operators in 170 countries. Telecommunications operators own and operate these networks, not Huawei. We comply with all laws and regulations in the countries where we work. “
“Foreign governments,” ASPI said last November, “can play a more active role in rejecting those who participate in the Chinese government’s repressive Xinjiang policies.” That question is about to see something from an acid test.