Should the UK share US fears over Chinese tech firms?

By Sooraj Shah, Stuart Sumner
15 Oct 2012 View Comments
huawei-on-chineseflag

As China's economy has boomed in recent years, several of its technology firms have also flourished on a global scale.

Further reading

One firm, Huawei, is now the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer on the planet. It delivered one of the world's first LTE/EPC (Long Term Evolution/Evolved Packet Core - essentially 4G-capable) networks in Norway in 2009 - and has had long-standing partnerships in the UK with BT, Carphone Warehouse and Vodafone.

But should we be concerned by Huawei's growing presence in the UK's public and private telecoms infrastructure? After all, the government itself is a customer of BT, and could very well be using Huawei-manufactured kit in its most sensitive, mission-critical networks.

Other countries are worried about Huawei's association with the Chinese government. The firm was set up by current president Ren Zhengfei, a former major in the Chinese People's Liberation Army. It was banned from tendering on Australia's National Broadband Network because of security fears, and this month, after a year-long review, was deemed a "national security threat" to the US, by a US House Intelligence Committee.

"China has the means, opportunity and motive to use telecommunications companies for malicious purposes," the report claimed.

Huawei has refuted this, stating that the report "failed to provide clear information or evidence to substantiate the legitimacy of the Committee's concern".

But since the US Committee released its report, the government of Canada has also announced that it will exclude Huawei from a project to build a government broadcasting network, again due to security fears. In the UK, it has recently surfaced that the Chinese firm could face a Commons inquiry into its relationship with BT.

BT has since issued a statement that said: "We work closely with Huawei on commercial security best practice and our relationship with Huawei is managed strictly in accordance with UK laws."

So what exactly is the US concerned about?

[Turn to next page]

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