Alliance for American Manufacturing

08/14/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 08/14/2019 19:45

Don’t Worry, Everybody. Huawei is Totally Cool. Nothing to See Here.

Huawei helped African governments spy on political opponents? We're sure it's fine.

One of the big sticking points in the ongoing U.S.-China trade debate is over whether Huawei, the massive Chinese telecommunications company, will be allowed to continue to operate in the United States.

Bipartisan lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) are among those who say Huawei poses a big national security threat. There's a whole lot of evidence that backs them up. The United States is now taking steps - as mandated by Congress - to ban Huawei from U.S. government contracts.

Whether Huawei will be banned from the U.S. market entirely remains a question.

That's because President Trump has used Huawei as one of his negotiating tactics with China. First he moved to ban Huawei from doing business in the United States, then after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit, he loosened the restrictions. Now that trade talks with China are in a bad place, Trump is back to threatening Huawei.

So what's Huawei's move in all this?

First, they've hired a bunch of D.C. lobbyists.

Second, both Huawei and the Chinese government are insistent that it is totally not a threat at all! There's even a website and a Twitter handle and a hashtag!

The strategy seems to be working, as the issue is largely framed by the media as a debate. Is Huawei actually a threat, or is this a case of Trump being Trump, exaggerating the situation, something he very rarely does?

This brings me to a blockbuster story reported Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal.

Huawei dominates telecommunications markets throughout Africa, and it is already well-known Huawei has sold governments across the continent tools 'for digital surveillance and censorship.' But a WSJ investigation found that Huawei has been up to much more:

Technicians from the Chinese powerhouse have, in at least two cases, personally helped African governments spy on their political opponents, including intercepting their encrypted communications and social media, and using cell data to track their whereabouts, according to senior security officials working directly with the Huawei employees in these countries.

In one case, Huawei technicians helped Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for more than 30 years, hack into the encrypted communications of his U.S.-backed opponent Bobi Wine. The government eventually 'scuppered [Wine's] plans to organize street rallies and arrested the politician and dozens of his supporters.'

In another instance, Huawei helped the Zambian government access the phones and Facebook pages of opposition bloggers who had criticized President Edgar Lungu. Huawei also helped pinpoint the bloggers' locations, who were then arrested.

The WSJ also points out that 'Chinese government officials have played a key role in facilitating deals for Huawei in Africa.' Huawei also has sold video surveillance and facial recognition systems to two dozen developing countries.

It's a long read, but the entire story is worth your time.

Meanwhile in Washington, Huawei is spending big money to try to convince policymakers and others that it does not pose a threat to the United States. It just wants to sell smartphones, guys!

Look, there is a lot to criticize President Trump about, on how he's handled China and a whole host of other stuff. But even if you are a die-hard member of The Resistance, it is important not to conflate Trump with the very real threat that China's espionage efforts pose to the United States.

Whether it's 5G networks and electronic devices or rail cars and electric buses, there is mounting evidence that China - and companies like Huawei who maintain close ties with the Chinese communist party and state apparatus - are not friendly players.