HOW does Huawei do it? The Chinese supplier of flawed telecommunications hardware and software attracts customers who have been burnt already.
Now count the African Union amongst the twice-fooled. In January 2018, anonymous sources inside the AU told British and French newspapers that in January 2017 the African Union had discovered Huawei servers transferring data to China every night since 2012, when the AU opened its new HQ in Ethiopia. Upon discovery, the AU purchased replacement servers, installed encryption, and terminated its contract with Ethiopia’s state-owned service provider, which continued to use Chinese hardware.
However, the AU denied the reports. Last week the AU and Huawei agreed to expand their relationship to fifth generation wireless networks (5G) and artificial intelligence, and to increase Huawei’s training of AU staff.
Why would the AU side with Huawei? Cash! Huawei doesn’t sell the best products, it sells the cheapest, and China aids its buyers. The AU HQ was completed in 2012 by a state-owned Chinese company, with materials mostly imported from China (even the furniture), mostly funded by a Chinese donation of $200million. This is a bargain from the Chinese perspective: for the first quarter of 2019, Huawei reported revenue of $27billion. Implicitly, other trade deals depend on Huawei’s access.
This is where the British government looks like the AU. On 23 April Theresa May cast the deciding vote in the National Security Council in favour of allowing Huawei to take part in Britain’s 5G, while being lobbied by former members of the government, who either work for Huawei or for Chinese investment funds, including her mentor and predecessor as leader – David Cameron. Huawei was worth £470million in tax revenues and £1.7billion in economic turnover to Britain in 2018. But cash should not override security.
Huawei is a company obliged by Chinese law to co-operate with the Chinese state in intelligence. Since August last year it has been prohibited by US law from supplying the US government. Australia and New Zealand have in effect banned Huawei from government work and national networks. Canada is on course to do the same. In January this year Huawei was indicted by the US government for espionage, wire fraud, evading sanctions, and obstruction of justice. In May, President Trump issued an executive order in effect blocking Huawei from operating in America. Then the US government banned Huawei from buying parts in the US without US government approval. This week, Britain’s communications espionage and security agency (GCHQ) warned again, as it had in March, that Huawei has failed to remedy British discoveries of security flaws in its products.
Theresa May and her predecessors put Chinese cash before British security or Allied relations. Thankfully she has stepped down. One of the criteria for selection of her successor should be a commitment to put British security before Chinese investment.