Arguably, Huawei is at the forefront of modern technology. In recent news, this Chinese company has been the subject of heated debate about what are core values to many of us – trust, honesty, and integrity. The US, in particular, has been vocal about its suspicions regarding Huawei’s motives. With their rapid advancements in facial recognition, 5G and the Internet of Things (IOT), experiencing paranoia is not illegitimate or irrational. Could this global expansion and dominance of the European market all be a ploy for exploitation of other countries, such as Ireland? Could Huawei be furtively attempting to access private and confidential information, and more importantly, government data?
In Ireland, Huawei has connections with several of our major universities, such as Trinity, DCU, and our very own UCD. With researchers from these universities, it conducts ground-breaking research, including research on smart cities and safe cities initiatives. These partnerships have led to impressive advancements in the technological sector in Ireland, with the Vodafone CEO remarking that losing this partnership with Huawei would delay the introduction of 5G by two years. 5G, meaning the fifth-generation of mobile internet connectivity, promises much faster download speeds, better coverage, and moreover, more stable connections. In other words, video calls with that long-distance friend will be clearer, less glitchy, and fitness devices and navigation systems will be more “real time” than Dublin Bus’ Real Time is today. More impressively, 5G will power IOT, enabling communication between driverless cars and traffic lights. With all these benefits, why should we choose to lose this partnership with Huawei?
With all these technological advancements, come the negatives – the same existential debate over whether technology has been the best thing that has happened to us or the most damaging invention introduced to mankind. If Huawei can devise these smart initiatives, what else could these developments lead to? Potential espionage? In Xinjiang, China, Huawei has been working in cooperation with the local Public Security Bureau to develop a new surveillance scheme for this region. The aim is to develop better security through population-control measures. The motivation behind this? Threats of terrorism with a large Muslim population in this region. Thus, Chinese authorities have used Xinjiang as a pilot – adopting facial recognition and AI in the hopes of achieving more effective and stringent policing techniques.
This partnership between China and Huawei has fuelled concerns over Huawei’s legitimacy in developing smart cities or smart city initiatives in other countries as it continues to flourish and grow, particularly in the European market. How can this technology, such as that used in Xinjiang, be used in other countries outside of the Chinese market? Moreover, could this be an alliance with the Chinese government?
The US has accused Huawei of potential espionage on behalf of the Chinese government. In response, Huawei remarked that they only strive to serve the public, with no political alliance with the Chinese government and moreover, with no mal-intent at heart. In its extremity, US intelligence officials have formally announced Huawei as a national security threat. In total, the US has filed 23 charges against Huawei. An example of some of the claims made against Huawei would be the US’ allegation that Huawei has committed wire fraud, and moreover, stolen technology from another company, T-Mobile.
Further fuelling the tension between the US and China, in December of last year, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, Ms. Meng Wanzhou was held in custody on the basis of fraud, and breach of sanctions on Iran while changing flights in Vancouver, Canada. She has denied the claims made against her, responding with a lawsuit for the breach of her civil rights.
In a relatively short space of time, Huawei have gone from a local brand to a name known worldwide (although pronounced incorrectly by most). Their main competitors are Nokia and Ericsson, making equipment for mobile phone networks. With the advent of their smartphones, Huawei now captures approximately 16% of the global market, being the third-largest supplier behind Samsung, and Apple. The founder of Huawei was a former army officer, resulting in the US citing this military background as a further threat and potential risk, fuelling more security concerns. Moreover, China’s National Intelligence Law further declares that all organisations must support, co-operate and collaborate with national intelligence work – a law heavily cited by US representatives. Nonetheless, in a communist society, this is hardly a surprising demand.
Huawei has the power to revolutionise the world as we know it, and yet, this involves major threats to public security. The US has been adamantly against Huawei, citing potential espionage. Australia and New Zealand followed suit, restricting Huawei’s involvement in their 5G networks. Nonetheless, New Zealand later established that this was still under review. Closer to home, some of our neighbouring countries, including the UK and Germany, are more inclined to keeping Huawei. Just last month, James Lawless, a Fianna Fáil Science and Technology spokesperson announced that there has not been much mention of this issue regarding Huawei’s involvement in Irish networks.
So far, it seems that as citizens in a fast-developing world, we can only hope to wait and see what happens. The argument against Huawei’s involvement seems legitimate as far as it is evidence-based. Nonetheless, restricting Huawei’s involvement due to simple paranoia could lead to a potentially major loss in terms of smart cities initiatives, IOT, and 5G. For now, let’s hope that any decisions made are informed and evidence-based.