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Politics Huawei chairman challenges security risk concerns, demands proof that tech giant is a pawn of Beijing

Huawei research and development centre in Dongguan in south China's Guangdong province, on Dec. 18, 2018.

Andy Wong/The Associated Press

The chairman of Huawei challenged the United States and its allies to provide evidence that the flagship Chinese tech giant poses security risks and is a pawn of Beijing’s ruling Communist Party.

Ken Hu held a rare news conference at Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. headquarters in Shenzhen on Tuesday and declared that the cellular-technology conglomerate is a victim of “ideology and geopolitics.” He warned that banning Huawei from supplying next-generation 5G mobile technology to Western countries would raise costs to consumers and stifle innovation.

The United States is leading a global campaign to persuade allies, including Canada, to bar Huawei from 5G networks on grounds that Beijing could order the telecom to tap the hardware it makes to spy on or disable communications networks. Chinese law requires China’s companies to conduct espionage if requested by Beijing.

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“If you have proof or evidence, it should be made known,” Mr. Hu said. “Maybe not to Huawei and maybe not to the public, but to telecom operators, because they are the ones that buy Huawei.”

Explainer: Huawei and Canada: What we know about the company, the arrest and China’s reaction

Mr. Hu’s comments echoed previous denials by company spokespeople, including Huawei Canada vice-president Scott Bradley, but it is the first time such a senior figure has directly addressed foreign security complaints – underscoring the company’s concerns that the U.S. campaign is having an impact.

The United States and Australia have blacklisted Huawei from supplying gear to their 5G wireless network infrastructure and New Zealand has blocked the first request from one of its wireless carriers to install the company’s 5G gear. Telecom firms in Japan, France, South Korea, Taiwan and Britain have also taken measures.

Canada – which is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance along with the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Britain – is conducting a cybersecurity review of Huawei and its 5G technology. 5G, which offers the prospect of much faster download speeds, is meant to support a vast expansion of telecom networks to connect self-driving cars, factory robots, medical devices and power plants. That has prompted governments increasingly to view these networks as strategic national assets.

“There has never been any evidence that our equipment poses a security threat,” Mr. Hu said. “We have never accepted requests from any government to damage the networks or business of any of our customers.”

Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, which protects the country from cyberthreats, said it had no comment on Mr. Hu’s remarks.

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Three industry sources have told The Globe and Mail it would cost more than $1-billion for BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. to end rip out and replace Huawei equipment. The Globe gave the sources anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss sensitive company business. Rogers Communications Inc. is buying 5G from Sweden’s Ericsson.

The Globe reported last week that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warned the country’s top universities in October to be cautious about their extensive 5G research relationships with Huawei. In May, The Globe revealed Huawei has invested millions of dollars in leading research universities to establish a steady pipeline of intellectual property that the company is using to underpin its market position in 5G.

The Five Eyes security chiefs have twice cautioned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau against Huawei’s growing presence in Canada, government source have told The Globe. In April in London, England and again in July in Halifax, the spy directors stressed their countries cannot become dependent upon Huawei’s 5G technology because they view the company as beholden to Beijing. The sources were granted anonymity by The Globe because they weren’t authorized to discuss confidential information.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told The Globe that the Trudeau government should stop dragging out its cybersecurity review and immediately bar Huawei from the country’s 5G networks.

Canada should rely on the advice and research of other Five Eyes intelligence allies that have already barred Huawei from 5G technology, he said.

“These are governments we rely on for information, for intelligence and they have come to this conclusion. They have done a lot of the work for us and we should be able to use it as a foundation for our review.” Mr. Scheer said in a year-end interview. “I believe [Mr. Trudeau] is more interested in having a good relationship with the government of China than standing up for Canada’s s national security concerns.”

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Huawei’s push-back came just as China’s President Xi Jinping used a speech – marking the 40th anniversary of late leader Deng Xiaoping’s campaign to turn the country into an economic powerhouse – to remind the world that outsiders will not boss his country around.

“No one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done,” Mr. Xi said. “We will resolutely reform what can and needs to be reformed, and we will resolutely uphold what cannot and does not need to be changed.”

Mr. Xi said Beijing has no plans to dominate the world and is opening up its economy, but on its own terms. He made no mention of the trade war with the United States or China’s arrest of two Canadians in an apparent tit-for-tat reprisal for Canada’s detention of a senior Huawei executive.

“China’s development does not pose a threat to any country,” Mr. Xi said. “No matter how far China develops, it will never seek hegemony.”

Mr. Scheer said China’s harsh reaction to the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou demonstrates the close links between the Communist leadership and the Chinese telecom. Ms. Meng is the daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, a former officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army.

Nine days after Ms. Meng was detained in Vancouver, China seized former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and author-businessman Michael Spavor on suspicion of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security.”

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Mr. Scheer says those detentions are troubling.

“The reaction from the government of China, I think it, at least, gives legitimacy to the concerns people have raised about the relationship between Huawei and the government of China,” he said.

With a report from Reuters

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