A senior Huawei executive has denied the firm is complicit in alleged repressive actions by the Chinese government, fending off comparisons to those who manufactured the gas chambers in Nazi Germany.
John Suffolk, Huawei’s global cybersecurity and privacy officer, was asked by British MPs how he would feel about equipment supplied by Huawei being used to enable a similar exercise in suppression as that of the Tiananmen Square protests 30 years ago.
Hundreds if not thousands of people are believed to have died in the student-led demonstrations.
“I don’t think we’re complicit in anything, I believe that our objective is to understand the law and comply with the law, it’s for others to make judgments,” the UK government’s former chief IT adviser said.
MP Julian Lewis responded, saying: “Like the people who manufactured the gas chambers no doubt in Nazi Germany.”
Suffolk faced intense questioning from the science & technology committee about Huawei’s ethics, over allegations the company supplies and assists the public security bureau in China’s Xinjiang province, which has in turn been accused of surveillance and of human rights abuses.
“Our job is to provide technology and services to partners, in these particular incidences, that is what we have done,” Suffolk replied, saying it has contracts with third-party vendors in Xinjiang.
“I don’t think it is right for us to make such judgments, our judgment is, is it legal within the countries in which we operate, that’s our criteria — it’s for others to make judgments about whether they think it is right or wrong, predominately the government.”
Probed on the matter further, committee chairman Norman Lamb said: “So, basically what you’re saying is, as long as we comply with the law that’s fine, we are amoral, we have no interest in what’s happening like the one and a half million Chinese people who have been incarcerated, for goodness sake, in Xinjiang, and you don’t care?”
Suffolk responded: “It’s not that we care or don’t care, that’s not our starting or end position. I think it’s for governments to determine what is right and wrong, that’s their sovereign duty.”
When asked about making money out of it, he added: “Well, we’re a commercial organisation, yes.”
The Huawei executive also continued to dismiss concerns the company might be able to provide a backdoor in some of its technology to allow the Chinese government to spy, saying it has never been asked to do anything “untoward”.
Huawei has been the focus of mounting scrutiny amid accusations of having close ties to the Chinese state, with some critics arguing its telecoms equipment could be used to spy on people in the West. The company has always strongly denied the claims, insisting it abides by the laws of each country in which it is present.
The US has also urged its allies — including the UK — not to use its equipment or face being cut off from US intelligence because of the “unacceptable risk” Huawei poses.
The UK government is still debating whether or not to allow Huawei telecoms equipment to be used in parts of Britain’s new 5G networks.
In May, US President Donald Trump issued an executive order preventing “foreign adversaries” from accessing US technology without government approval, which subsequently led Google to restrict Huawei’s access to the Android operating system.
As a result, new and yet-to-be released Huawei phones are unlikely to be able to access Google apps as part of Android, although a temporary licence and grace period sanctioned by the US government will initially allow support for existing devices until August.
The move has resulted in a number of tech firms distancing themselves from the beleaguered telecommunications company, most recently Facebook, which suspended Huawei’s ability to pre-install the social network’s apps on its smartphones last week.
During his state visit last week, Trump predicted the US and UK will reach agreement over Huawei, saying he expected the “incredible intelligence relationship” between the two countries to continue and that they would “be able to work out any differences”.