Huawei, meaning Splendid Act, is quite well known in Pakistan and its products are highly rated. It is one of the largest telecommunications equipment and services providers in the world, recently passing Apple to become the second-biggest smart-phone maker after Samsung. Under the leadership of Ren Zhengfei, its chairman and founder, Huawei has expanded from its Chinese roots into the rest of the world sparking concerns among Western governments over the company’s close ties to the Chinese authorities, as well as its willingness to export technologies to countries that are under sanction.
Established in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer of Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Huawei overtook Ericcson in 2012 to become the largest telecommunications-equipment manufacturers in the world. The company is ranked 72nd of Global Index of Companies and its products are used in 171 countries and it serves 45 of the 50 largest telecom-operators globally. Its cutting-edge is its R&D Wing that employs almost 40 percent of its workforce in 21 R&D Institutes in different countries of the world including Pakistan. It devotes 20 to 30 percent of R&D funding to basic science research and comes up with new techniques.
The Western world is apprehensive about the unprecedented performance of Huawei in global communications network and the influence it is reported to exert over technology for 5 wireless internet across the world. It is alleged by many leading industrial countries that Huawei, through the blessings of Chinese official machinery, is engaged in circumventing sanctions imposed on North Korea and Iran, providing the countries with telecom equipment that can be used for extensive spying on wide cross-sections of their populations.
As the time of rolling out faster technology is fast approaching many countries have warned against using Chinese hardware because of security concerns. These countries are concerned that Chinese government uses products manufactured by Huawei to spy on people they are using them. The campaign against Huawei has not relented despite the company and the Chinese government denial of the allegations. The matter became serious when Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of Huawei and the company’s Chief Financial Officer was detained at Vancouver airport on unspecific charges.
The detention caused strong reaction from the government of China and Huawei has demanded her release calling the detention as gross violation of human rights. They have termed her as the first hostage taken in a new technological war. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government had no involvement in her arrest and has maintained that it took place due to a US extradition request. The detention had come at a sensitive time as America and China are involved in a protracted trade war that has seen both impose duties on billions of dollars of one another’s goods. Ironically, Meng Wanzhou’s arrest took place on the same day when President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at G 20 summit in Argentina and arrived at a temporary truce in their trade war.
The suspicion about espionage conducted by Huawei through its products have lingered for some time now compelling four countries to officially declaring not to allow Huawei to take part in the 5G trials. The countries are led by the US whose lawmakers have repeatedly accused the company of being a threat to US national security. Japan is next to ban government use of products manufactured by Huawei and ZTE citing cyber-security concerns. The move is followed by Australia and New Zealand who have also blocked products made by Huawei.
The incident is the most serious demonstration of trade restraints China may face owing to the apprehensions held by industrial nations. The arrest of the top-most executive of the premier company of China is taken as the symbol of expanding suspicions about Chinese ways of utilising corporate and technological know-how for covert state-oriented purposes.
The detention has laid open the rivalry existing between the western technological companies and Chinese conglomerates. It was frequently alleged that China would have access to sensitive user information, such as location data, and that Chinese technologies could pose a possible threat to critical infrastructure of industrialised countries. To prevent possible espionage the US lawmakers urged large American wireless carrier AT&T to reconsider its potential deals with Huawei.
Both Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE Corp, were subject of investigation by US authorities to ascertain if their equipment could pose threat to US companies. The results of the findings pointed to a collaboration between these companies and the Chinese government which they avoided to explain. The findings spurred on a drive to prevent US and its allies from using Huawei technology for critical infrastructure. The focus of US efforts was on the members of Five Eyes, a group of five English speaking countries; US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain whose intelligence agencies share information on a large scale.
The US has also tried to dissuade other countries like Germany, Canada and Japan to use technologies developed by Huawei. Canadian companies have so far not agreed to ban equipment manufactured by Huawei. German authorities have shown serious concerns about the issue but have not decided anything yet. Japanese government, however, decided to ban Huawei products though it heavily relied on such equipment. Italy has also been persuaded by the US to cease using Huawei products but it has not made a final decision yet.
China is rightfully livid at this development and has strongly condemned it. It emphasises that it has ensured compliance of all applicable laws for its companies to follow. Huawei has termed this action as against the spirit of free economy and free competition.
Rameez Ansari is an entrepreneur