Huawei controversies timeline

Huawei controversies timeline

America's accusatory tone against Huawei is nothing new - read on for our extensive list of controversies pinned to the company

Credit: Martyn Williams

December - BT removes some Huawei equipment from 4G network

BT said that it had removed some Huawei technology from its 4G network, but that this was part of a wider policy to standardise its equipment across the network after it purchase of EE in 2015. However, as the Guardian reported, parts of BT and EE's "peripheral" systems remain on Huawei equipment and that there are no plans to alter these.

In a statement emailed to Computerworld UK from Huawei, a spokesperson said: "Huawei has been working with BT for almost 15 years. Since the beginning of this partnership, BT has operated on a principle of different vendors for different network layers. This agreement remains in place today. Since it acquired EE in 2016, the BT Group has been actively bringing EE's legacy network architecture in line with this long-standing agreement.

"This is a normal and expected activity, which we understand and fully support. As BT noted, 'Huawei remains an important equipment provider and a valued innovation partner.' Working together, we have already completed a number of successful 5G trials across different sites in London, and we will continue to work with BT in the 5G era."

December - Huawei marks $2 billion to address UK security concerns

In response to concerns from the NCSC about inadequacies in the company's code base, Huawei said it would spend $2 billion - roughly £1.5 billion - on improving its product lines.


January - Trump administration considers formal ban of Huawei and ZTE

Reuters reported that a possible executive order that had been under consideration for at least eight months would outright block American companies from buying equipment from foreign telco suppliers.

The report notes that rural operators in the USA that rely on Huawei and ZTE equipment were concerned that they would have to can Chinese-made equipment without compensation.

January - Huawei new year message: no market can keep us away

In a new year message titled 'Fire is the Test of Gold', rotating chairman Guo Ping claimed that the company will keep working on delivering the best products and services to the degree that "no market can keep us away".

Opening the post with a Cicero quote - "the greater the difficulty, the greater the glory" - he said that the company's business performance remained strong despite the negative comments in the media and that this is the "best response" to "negative conjecture and market restrictions" before thanking customers, partners, the public, and employees.

January - US Justice Department files criminal charges against Huawei, Meng Wanzhou

The USA officially filed a total of 23 criminal charges against Huawei and CFO Meng Wanzhou, including bank fraud, obstruction of justice, and IP theft.

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said: "For years, Chinese firms have broken our export laws and undermined sanctions, often using US financial systems to facilitate their illegal activities."

But Huawei denied the criminal charges and said that it was not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms Meng. Ms Meng also denied the allegations, which surrounded sanctions on Iran. The IP theft charges related to the Tappy robot from T-Mobile USA.

And, the BBC said, the company added that the allegations were already settled - where a civil suit jury did not find "damages nor wilful and malicious conducts on the trade secret claim".

January - Ren Zhengfei speaks out

In a rare interview with foreign media, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei denied that China's government had asked for help to spy using the firm's technology.

The FT, the WSJ and Bloomberg were among the titles invited to the roundtable.

"I love my country, I support the Communist Party," he said in the briefing. "But I will not do anything to harm the world. I don't see a close connection between my personal political beliefs and the businesses of Huawei."

He added that he would turn down requests from Chinese authorities for sensitive information on clients.

"Huawei is only a sesame seed in the trade conflict between China and the US," Ren said. "Trump is a great president. He dares to massively cut taxes, which will benefit business. But you have to treat well the companies and countries so that they are willing to invest in the US and the government will be able to collect enough tax."

Ren said that he "personally would never harm the interest of my customers and me and my company would not answer to such requests".

"No law in China requires any company to install mandatory backdoors," he said.

January - Huawei says it could pull out of Western countries

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Huawei chairman Mr Liang Hua said that the company could move its operations to where it was "welcomed" and added that the firm follows regulations in the territories it operates in.

He added that concerned parties were welcome to visit Huawei's labs in China, and stressed Britain's approach to "openness" and "free trade".

Mr Liang Hua also said that the company would continue to focus on "providing value by offering the high bandwidth ultra low latency and high connectivity products" to its customers, said the BBC.

January - Chinese ambassador to EU slams Huawei network fears

Speaking of the cybersecurity concerns raised within Europe, senior diplomat Zhang Ming said that it is "not helpful to make slander, discrimination, pressure, coercion or speculation against anyone else".

"Now someone is sparing no effort to fabricate a security story about Huawei," the ambassador said, according to the FT. "I do not think that this story has anything to do with security."

The diplomat added that global supply chains were intertwined and that because Huawei is a leading manufacturer in 5G, it would be "very irresponsible" to cut it out of the chain - and that doing so could mean "serious consequences to global economic and scientific cooperation".

February - Merkel calls for further security reassurances

During a trip to Japan, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said further security guarantees must be in place for Huawei to be involved in the country's rollout of 5G networks.

February - Alex Louder states outright ban might not be the right course for the UK

MI6 head Alex Louder, who had previously sounded the alarm about Huawei, clarified that he believes a blanket ban of the vendor might not be the most appropriate course for Britain - adding that the subject was complex.

He said in Munich: "There are some practical points about the number of vendors who exist at the moment. It's not inherently desirable that we have a monopolistic supplier of any of our critical national infrastructure. We should be aiming for the maximum diversity as a matter of good practice."

That meant taking a "principles-based approach" and that the first of these should be "around quality".

"This has got nothing to do with the country of origin," he added. "We should be insisting on the highest level of quality in any form of technology platform or service we choose to use and in particular security quality."

The comments were echoed by an opinion piece penned by former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan in the FT, who said that in his view a blanket ban would not make sense, and calls for such were "short on technical understanding of cybersecurity and the complexities of 5G architecture."

February - Huawei says it could take five years for 'tangible' security results

A letter penned by Huawei to MP Norman Lamb said that it could take as long as five years for "tangible results" from the firm's commitment to addressing some of the security concerns.

In the letter, Ryan Ding, carrier business group president for the company said: "Modern communications networks are complex systems that keep evolving in new and innovative ways. Enhancing our software engineering capabilities is like replacing components on a high-speed train in motion ...

"It is a complicated and involved process and will take at least three to five years to see tangible results. We hope the UK government can understand this."

February - 5G is "not the atom bomb" says Huawei's Eric Xu

Speaking with Computerworld UK and other British media at a comprehensive roundtable at Huawei's Shenzhen headquarters, rotating chairman Eric Xu retorted to many of the security fears - where he outlined Huawei's plans to address extensive legacy code to better align with current security standards, as well as future-proofing its product line.

He said that comments from American officials speak to a "well-coordinated geopolitical campaign" against the company, and that the USA is "essentially using a national machine against a small company".

Xu asked: "Is the recent fixation on Huawei truly about cyber security or could there be other motivations?

"Are they truly considering the cybersecurity and privacy protection of the people in other nations, or are there possibly other motives? Some other people argue that they are trying to find leverage for US-China trade negotiations.

"Some other people argue that if Huawei equipment was used in those countries, US agencies would find it harder to get access to information of those people, or find it harder to intercept their mobile communications ... I believe in the wisdom of 7 billion people in the world, and I figure they clearly can see those different types of possibilities."

February - Huawei risk manageable according to British intelligence

According to the FT, an as-yet-unpublished report from the NCSC concludes that security threats from Huawei are manageable. This, added the FT, could well influence security policies across the rest of the EU.

February - Ren Zhengfei says US can't "crush" Huawei

In an interview with the BBC, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei hit out at the American criminal charges levied at the firm.

He said that there is "no way the US can crush us," adding that "the world cannot leave us because we are more advanced".

"Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always scale things down a bit," he said.

February - Trump tweets about 5G and 'even 6G'

In a pair of tweets, the president of the USA, Donald Trump, said that he wants "5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible."

"It is far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard. American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind," he said.

According to Washington correspondent for CNBC Kayla Tausche, in the same month, Trump also signalled that he would be discussing the possibility for dropping the charges against Huawei as part of a trade deal.

Huawei's Guo Ping said at Mobile World Congress that Trump was right to be concerned about America lagging behind in 5G.

"I think his message is clear and correct," he said.

March - UK watchdog says Huawei poses 'long-term security risks'

The UK's Huawei oversight board has delivered a damning assessment of Huawei's security failings in its annual report on the Chinese tech giant.

The government-led board set up to vet the firm cited "serious and systematic defects in Huawei’s software engineering and cyber security competence" that "significantly increased risk to UK operators."

It claimed that the company had made "no material progress" to address the issues previously reported and that "further significant technical issues have been identified in Huawei’s engineering processes".

The oversight body, which is funded by Huawei and chaired by the head of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, stopped short of calling for a ban on using the company's equipment in the UK's 5G networks, but its findings will influence the government reviews of Huawei bids for 5G contracts.

Matthew Green, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, explained in a Twitter thread that other manufacturers probably have similar defects, those vendors don't face the same need to gain the government's trust.

April - CIA says it has 'proof' of Huawei-Chinese state link, according to anonymous Times leak

According to a leak in Britain's The Times newspaper, America's spy agency the CIA has warned that Huawei has received funding from Beijing's national security apparatus as well as the People's Liberation Army - however, the proof it said was offered to British officials has not yet been openly published anywhere.

The anonymous source told The Times that Huawei had additionally taken money from a third branch of Chinese state intelligence.

While not evidenced publicly, the claims can be seen as a tightening of the screws by American intelligence against one of its key allies in the Five Eyes network, the name given to a spying and surveillance agreement between the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Huawei has denied the claims. In a statement cited by the Times, a spokesperson said: "Huawei does not comment on unsubstantiated allegations backed up by zero evidence from anonymous sources."

April - British PM proceeds with Huawei's 'non-core' 5G infrastructure equipment

Britain's National Security Council, chaired by prime minister Theresa May, has decided to allow Huawei to provide some of the UK's 5G infrastructure, although it was described as "noncore" technologies such as antennas.

According to a report in The Telegraph, which broke the story, senior figures from the British government raised concerns about the agreement, including home secretary Sajid Javid, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, defence secretary Gavin Williamson, international trade secretary Liam Fox and international development secretary Penny Mordaunt.

Fears over cyber security will be discussed by the Five Eyes countries at a conference in Glasgow.

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said on the BBC's Today programme that differentiating between core and non-core technologies in a 5G network could prove difficult, and also tweeted that the decision could "cause allies to doubt our ability to keep data secure and erode the trust essential" to the Five Eyes grouping.

A spokesperson for Huawei commented that the company was "pleased that the UK is continuing to take an evidence-based approach to its work" and that it will "continue to work cooperatively with the government".

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