Huawei has become the world’s third largest smart phone manufacturer in recent years but the company faces headwinds in its expansion plans due to its close links with the Chinese communist party.
The Asian tech giant — which was founded by former People’s Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei — and fellow Chinese smartphone maker ZTE have been singled out in a new US bill which aims to ban US government agencies from using phones and equipment from the Chinese tech companies.
The legislation was proposed last week by Texas lawmaker Mike Conaway because using such devices “would be inviting Chinese surveillance into all aspects of our lives,” he said.
The bill came just days after major US mobile carrier AT&T dramatically walked away from a deal to sell Huawei’s new flagship Mate10 device (recently reviewed by news.com.au
) in its stores after congress reportedly raised national security concerns with regulators.
While any suggestion Huawei engages in any espionage activities on behalf of Beijing are “factually tenuous and unproven,” said Nigel Phair, “the reality is in the modern day of cyber security and espionage you can never be too careful.”
Mr Phair is the director of the Canberra-based Centre for internet Safety and said governments need to approach such issues from “a risk management perspective.”
“I don’t think you can be too cautious,” he said.
However while the US is proving to be exceedingly careful, some believe the growing influence China wields in Australia could prevent similar decisions from being made at home.
“Any electronic product containing software manufactured overseas potentially has security issues for the purchaser,” ANU Professor and defence intelligence and security expert Clive Williams said.
“We trust the Five-Eyes partners not to exploit that trust when we buy their equipment although clearly the US often has covert trapdoors into US products.”
The Australian Signals Directorate
is responsible for overseeing the security of the government’s communications but Prof Wilson warns that China’s growing influence among our politicians could mean it is unlikely Australia takes the level of precautions recently seen in the US.
“There is sometimes powerful lobbying through former federal politicians, whose influence has been bought by China, to buy Chinese products,” he said in an e-mail to news.com.au. “In other words, they are putting their financial interests in front of Australia’s national security interests.”
On Tuesday, Reuters reported
that US policymakers are urging carriers to cut commercial ties with the Chinese tech giants altogether — including any involvement in 5G development. According to the report, lawmakers warned that firms who have any ties to either Huawei or China Mobile could hamper their ability to do business with government agencies.
NO WAY, HUAWEI
Although there has been no evidence, and steadfast denials from Huawei, that the Chinese tech company eavesdrops on behalf of Beijing, for a number of years the US has prohibited Huawei from bidding for government contracts out of fears for national security.
Such moves are not uncommon when it comes to telecommunications infrastructure and certain software services.
Australia has also exercised such caution when it comes to allowing investment projects. Both Labor and Liberal government blocked Huawei from tendering for the National Broadband Network in 2012 and 2013. And last year the government raised concerns over Huawei’s involvement in building internet cables in the Pacific region
In June, Huawei phones were approved
for use by Defence officials and top diplomats — in a move that raised eyebrows among officials and politicians.
In September, similar concerns were again raised
over the fact the Telstra Tough T55 handset which is made by ZTE was available on the secure ParlICT website to order. The phone was listed for $195 on the ordering system available to all who work in Parliament House.
But most interestingly, the latest concerns expressed by US politicians extend to the consumer market as they stepped in to sour the deal between AT&T and Huawei.
According to The New York Times
, AT&T walked away from a deal to sell the Mate10 smartphone to US customers after politicians wrote a letter to regulators saying congress had “long been concerned about Chinese espionage in general, and Huawei’s role in that espionage in particular.”