Reclusive Huawei Founder Says Firm Does Not Spy For China

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei on Tuesday said the Chinese government had never asked the company to spy.

Speaking in a rare appearance before reporters, Ren said his company had “never received any request from any government to provide improper information”, the Financial Times reported.

Ren’s comments follow the arrest of a Huawei employee in Poland last week on espionage charges. Following the arrest, Poland said it may consider limiting Huawei’s involvement in telecoms infrastructure programmes.

Poland is Huawei’s largest market in Central Europe.  Last month T-Mobile launched a pre-commercial 5G network in Warsaw using Huawei equipment, Poland’s first functioning 5G network.

5G controversy

Orange also launched a 5G  base station in Poland last month using gear from Huawei, and the company is expected to build a new science and technology centre near Warsaw.

But Huawei has been battling pressure from the US that has seen a number of countries, including the UK, issue warnings about the national security implications of using Huawei gear, particularly in next-generation mobile networks.

Australia and New Zealand have gone so far as to ban Huawei from participating in their 5G rollouts.

On Friday two men working in Poland’s telecoms industry were detained on spying charges, a Polish national who is reportedly a former counter-intelligence officer, and Huawei employee Wang Weijing. Huawei sacked Wang on Saturday, saying the arrest had brought Huawei into “disrepute”.

A spokesman for Poland’s security services told Reuters the arrests related to actions by the two individuals, and were not linked to Huawei itself.

However, Karol Okonski, Poland’s minister responsible for cyber security, told the news agency that the government may review the use of Huawei equipment by government bodies handling sensitive information.

“We will analyse whether… our decision can include an end to the use… of Huawei products,” Okonski said.

He added that an “abrupt” policy change toward Huawei was not warranted by the arrests.

International tensions

Poland’s internal affairs minister told broadcaster RMF FM he wanted the EU and NATO to establish a “joint stance” on governments’ “concerns” with Huawei and whether to exclude the company from certain markets.

But he added that Poland wants “relations with China that are good, intensive and attractive for both sides”.

NATO said in a statement that it “takes cyber security very seriously”.

The arrest is the latest incident fuelling tensions with Huawei and China, following the December of Meng Wanzhou in Canada at the request of the US, which is seeking her extradition on fraud charges related to Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.

The Chinese foreign ministry said it was “highly concerned” about the arrest of Wang, who was formerly an attache at the Chinese consulate in Gdansk, and called on countries to end their “fabrications” about security risks posed by Huawei.

“Huawei complies with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries where it operates, and we require every employee to abide by the laws and regulations in the countries where they are based,” Huawei said after sacking Wang.

The two individuals. who have been detained but not charged, can be held for up to three months.  If convicted on spying charges they face up to 10 years in prison.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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