Though the larger trade battle between the United States and China may be winding down, the U.S. government’s campaign against Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei seems to be heating up.
A delegation of U.S. officials arrived at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona this week to lobby telecommunications carriers across the globe not to use Huawei equipment, which they claim is vulnerable to Chinese spying efforts. At the same time, top Huawei executives attending the conference, where the company has been a major sponsor for years, fired back, saying their gear was secure and demanding evidence to back up the U.S. charges.
Robert Strayer, the State Department’s head of cybersecurity, told reporters at a briefing in Barcelona that Huawei equipment is “potentially compromised” by the Chinese government, but offered no specific evidence. “Chinese law requires these firms to support and assist Beijing’s vast security apparatus,” he said. The Trump administration has already banned the use of Huawei equipment by U.S. contractors and had the CFO of Huawei arrested in Canada on fraud charges. The president is rumored to be close to signing an executive order banning use of Huawei gear in all U.S. networks.
Huawei officials ridiculed the concerns and maintained that their gear was secure. The company said it has already signed contracts with 30 carriers, including 18 in Europe, to provide equipment for building new 5G wireless networks. And while some U.S. allies such as Australia have also shunned Huawei, Germany and the United Kingdom are reportedly leaning towards allowing their telecommunications companies to buy from the Chinese supplier.
“There has never been more interest in Huawei,” rotating chairman Guo Ping said in a speech at the conference. “We must be doing something right.”
He also referred to the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about the U.S. telecommunications spying program known as Prism. “Prism, prism on the wall, who’s the most trustworthy of them all,” Guo asked, as the audience laughed. “It is a very important question and if you don’t answer that, you can go and ask Edward Snowden.”
Guo denied that Huawei had allowed the Chinese government to gain undisclosed access to the communications equipment it sells. Huawei gained considerable positive press over its unveiling this week of a smartphone that can unfold to offer an 8-inch screen.