Huawei Threat: Real or Overblown?

Writing for Foreign Policy, activist Trevor Timm argues that the U.S. government’s report accusing Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE of threatening U.S. national security interests “smacks of economic protectionism” even though its recommendation of increased transparency may be justified:

Although the report — at least the unclassified version — is full of sound and fury, it is almost devoid of anything conclusively connecting Huawei and ZTE with the charges levied against them. The 11-month investigation, which Huawei requested, starts from the presumption of guilt and works backwards from there: All its conclusions are based on the suspicion of wrongdoing. As 60 Minutes reported two-thirds of the way into its segment on Huawei this past Sunday, almost as an afterthought, “[T]here’s no hard evidence” that any of the espionage allegations are true.

It seems that the House intelligence committee’s response to potential cybersecurity threats has been to circumvent the Bill of Rights using “national security” as an excuse, while the committee avoided the most effective solutions — like examining the two companies’ code and vulnerability testing all foreign-made communications equipment — that would make the nation’s communications infrastructure safer.

The consequences for ignoring the issues surrounding Huawei and ZTE are serious, and the U.S. government should prevent government agencies from entering into contracts that could harm the United States. And the U.S. government has good reason to fear the Chinese government’s connection to Huawei and ZTE from past experience: Even if their equipment is perfectly safe now, it could be turned against the United States in the future.

But the U.S. government, along with House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, have effectively blacklisted Huawei and ZTE, even though the two companies have not been convicted of — let alone charged with — any crimes. Rogers even called into question the patriotism of any company doing business with Huawei, telling 60 Minutes, “If I were an American company today… and you are looking at Huawei, I would find another vendor if…you care about the national security of the United States of America.”

Both Huawei and ZTE have pushed back against the charges contained in the report, and a Monday China Daily opinion piece railed against the “hypocrisy” of American politicians:

The accusation that the two Chinese companies pose a security threat to the US is based on the assertion that they cannot be trusted to be free of State influence, a subjective judgment with no credible evidence to support it. Coming from a so-called intelligence panel, this is not very intelligent at all, since the US government has publicly and repeatedly recognized China as a partner, rather than an enemy. It is impossible for any company in the world to be entirely free of sate influence, including US companies, does that make them all a security threat to the US?

There are a lot of US companies operating in China, which have very strong links to the US government, such as Boeing and Motorola, yet the Chinese government has never called for the exclusion of these companies from the Chinese market. As a matter of fact, the Chinese authorities have tried their best to facilitate their operations.

The two Chinese companies that are alleged to pose a security threat to the US, operate in about 150 countries as welcome and respected partners without any problems.

China Hearsay’s Stan Abrams, however, calls out Timms’ piece among the many critical responses that miss the point of the U.S. House investigation:

Some people seem to think that the House investigation was a judicial process. It wasn’t. One commentator writes in terms of “innuendo, supposition and guilt by association.” Since when was this about guilt or innocence? This was not a trial, or an arbitration, or an administrative hearing subject to judicial review and appeal. No, this was an investigation by a group of legislators who drew up recommendations at the end of the process. That’s it.

I have no idea what the reference in that above quote to the Bill of Rights refers to, nor do I understand why some other commentators keep repeating different versions of the principle of presumed innocence, a standard in criminal law. Please stop that, it’s annoying and irrelevant.

The Foreign Policy article I quoted is worse than most I’ve read because it starts off stipulating that the Chinese government maintains tight control over Huawei and ZTE and that the PRC is responsible for many of the cyberattacks against the U.S. Hell, I wouldn’t even stipulate to all that. Indeed, I have no idea whether China has tight control over Huawei and/or ZTE. Everything I’ve heard about these companies, in fact, leads me to the opposite conclusion.

See also previous CDT coverage of Huawei, cybersecurity and .