For months, telecom companies across the world have been struggling with what to do with Huawei. The US has effectively locked the company out of American telecom networks, citing national security concerns — but as the rest of the world faces the same choice, not everyone is convinced Huawei is a threat. Most US experts see Huawei’s exposure to the Chinese government as dangerous in itself, but as time has gone on, the national split is getting harder to ignore.
This week saw two more prominent figures taking sides, for reasons that seemed more political than technological. On Friday in Geneva, ITU chief Houlin Zhao spoke out publicly against the ban. “If you find anything wrong, then you can charge [Huawei] and accuse them,” Zhao said. “But if we don’t have anything then to put them on the blacklist – I think this is not fair.” Zhao was born in China and worked at the government’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications before moving to the UN’s telecom union, so it’s not surprising that he would be concerned over the lack of evidence against the company.
At the same time, US officials are increasingly insistent that all Chinese companies are potentially suspect. At a cybersecurity forum on Thursday, DHS’s cybersecurity and infrastructure chief Chris Krebs said the primary concern was the legal regime of the origin country, rather than the specific product being shipped.
“Our focus is not on the country of origin, or the company, but it’s about what is the rule of law under which that product is potentially subject to,” Krebs said. That same logic could apply to other Chinese companies or Russian exports like Kaspersky Lab’s antivirus software. As Krebs put it, “it’s the rise of authoritarian states and how they’re operationalizing their tech sectors.”
Different readers will sympathize with different sides, but it’s getting harder to see how the argument can be resolved with technical analysis. Increasingly, the fight over Huawei looks like a fight between the US and China, with everyone else caught in the middle. And if this week’s statements are any indication, it’s a fight that will go on and on.