MPs compare Huawei to businesses that enabled Holocaust

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In a heated Parliamentary committee meeting, Huawei’s security chief was forced to defend the company against accusations that it could act as an earpiece for the Chinese government and be used by repressive regimes.

Shenzhen-based Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer, is at the centre of a trade war between the US and China. The company has been accused of trade theft, violating trade sanctions and compromising national security by giving the Chinese government access to telecommunications networks around the world. The US and some of its allies have banned Huawei from building or being involved with their next-generation 5G telecommunications infrastructure, at least for now.

The UK government has not yet made a formal decision on whether to allow Huawei access to its 5G infrastructure, although reports suggest that the National Security Council has agreed to allow the company to build non-core parts of the network, such as radio antennas.

The Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee is engaged in an inquiry to determine the possible security risks associated with the rollout of 5G. In a session yesterday, security researchers, representatives from UK network operators and a senior Huawei chief gave evidence to MPs.

MPs on the committee questioned whether Huawei would work with countries with “wicked and bad laws”. John Suffolk, global cyber security and privacy officer for Huawei, repeated the mantra that the company always follows the law in the countries it operates in. He said that Huawei does not make ethical judgements on issues such as alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang province, in which at least one million Chinese Muslims are thought to be imprisoned in re-education camps.

“Our starting point in the 170 countries in which we operate is: what is the law and what does the law define as acceptable and unacceptable? I think it is right for governments to determine, in essence, their objects, and enshrine that in law […] I don’t think it matters whether it is a dodgy regime, it matters what is in the law,” he said.

Several MPs compared Huawei to the businesses which agreed to work with Nazi Germany and in doing so enabled the Holocaust. Labour MP Graham Stringer asked if it would be fair to compare Huawei to IG Farben: the German company which manufactured Zyklon B and sold it to the Nazi government to enable genocide in Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps. Conservative MP Julian Lewis accused Suffolk of being a “moral vacuum” in response to his claim that Huawei always follows the law: “There is a lot of law in China, isn’t there? Just like there was a lot of law in Nazi Germany”, he said.

Lewis asked Suffolk how he would feel about Huawei equipment being used to engage in “repressive actions” by Beijing, similar to the Tiananmen Square massacre. When Suffolk responded that Huawei always follows the law, Lewis compared the company to “the people who manufactured the gas chambers […] in Nazi Germany”.

Norman Lamb, the typically mild-mannered chair of the committee, accused Huawei of being willing to turn a blind eye to the repression of human rights, saying: “Basically, what you are saying is: 'As long as we comply with the law, that is fine. We are amoral; we have no interest in what is happening' – like the one and a half million Chinese people who have been incarcerated in Xinjiang, for goodness’ sake. You don’t care.”

In response to questions about whether Huawei could be used as an earpiece for the Chinese government, under a 2017 law which requires companies based in China to cooperate with government intelligence and security agencies, Suffolk denied that Huawei had a close working relationship with the Chinese government; that it had received any requests from the Chinese government under this law; or could be compromised in the future. According to Suffolk, Huawei has gone through a period of clarification with the Chinese government and was advised that no company was required to assist with surveillance.

Julian Lewis described this claim as “entirely unbelievable”.

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