Huawei has been the center of much controversy in recent years, primarily thanks to increased US scrutiny under the Trump administration. This increased scrutiny eventually led to the company being added to the US entity list, effectively banning the company from using any US-made components in its products.

Since then, a flurry of countries across the world have made moves in some way against Huawei, hampering the company considerably. A typical action undertaken by many world governments has been to ban Huawei’s 5G infrastructure rollout for fear that the Chinese government would be able to infiltrate networks worldwide. Ireland has not opted to take any action against Huawei; however, an article published in the Defence Forces Review in December of 2020, written by Dr. Richard Maher of the Politics Department of UCD, took aim at the company anyway and outlined them as a potential threat to national security.

Where is the evidence?

There is no evidence to suggest that Huawei has provided stolen information to the Chinese Communist Party. Caught up in the crossfire between the US and China, Huawei’s potential demise may ultimately result from becoming a scapegoat. Huawei’s time in the spotlight as an accused spy has piqued the interest of cybersecurity experts worldwide, all of whom want to be the first to topple what remains of the company’s reputation. If there were evidence of spying discovered, that evidence would have been published, advertised, and likely hung on every street corner imaginable as an apparent justification for years of sinophobia. 

To be clear: Huawei is not perfect. Huawei was charged with violating US sanctions on Iran and stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile in January of 2019. While you may not necessarily believe that Iran should be under sanction by the US government, Huawei is not the first to violate those sanctions. In fact, ZTE did the same thing only a few months prior and even provided telecom infrastructure equipment globally, just like Huawei. What happened to ZTE? Rather than impeding its ability to function, the US government stepped in, fining the company and forcing it to fire its board of directors and employ a new chairperson. Nowadays, it’s business as usual for ZTE, but why is Huawei treated differently? 

China bad, America good

Western news has held a long-standing bias against China, often without merit. To give an example of this only recently, several WHO employees visited China to investigate the origins of COVID-19. The New York Times, a leading international publication, ran a story titled “On W.H.O. Trip, China Refused to Hand Over Important Data.” Two scientists on the mission came out to refute the article, saying they had been misquoted and had their words twisted. Two weeks later, the report still stands as-is, despite two scientists on the trip refuting its very premise.

To use an older example, in 2018, world-renowned publication Bloomberg published “The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies.” Multiple security experts have refuted the article, stating that there is no evidence that what Bloomberg alleges ever happened. Apple and Amazon, both named in the report as two companies affected, outright denied the allegations. “There is no truth,” said Apple in a press release. “This is untrue,” Amazon said in a blog post.

These are both two significant examples of anti-China sentiment that has made its way to international news. The alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and across China are horrific. They must not be tolerated, but there appears to be an agenda to demonise everything which comes out of China, to the point that western media will attempt to stretch or potentially even fabricate a story involving the country. There are hundreds of biased reporting cases against China in numerous publications, even when the subject matter being reported on is entirely unrelated to the CCP itself.

Handing over control of critical infrastructure to another world power

Imagine if the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) had discovered a significant exploit in the Microsoft Windows operating system, allowing an attacker to gain complete control of a device and take it over in minutes, utterly unknown to the owner. It could be used to spy on anyone that the MSS feels is suspicious, violating the right to privacy that so many of us value. The MSS then decides not to report it to Microsoft in order to abuse it should they ever need it. The exploit later leaks, as the MSS failed to secure it, and hackers learned how to do it too.

Imagined that scenario? 

That exact scenario is what led to WannaCry, the ransomware that took control of more than 200,000 machines in just a few days. WannaCry severely damaged NHS systems in the UK, along with health systems in other countries too. It cost millions in damages and, potentially, it may have even cost people their lives due to not receiving adequate medical care. 

There’s just one problem with that scenario. The National Security Agency in the United States discovered the exploit known as EternalBlue, not the MSS, and decided to hold onto it alongside a stack of potential other exploits for use. Later, it was stolen by the hacker group known as “The Shadow Brokers” in April 2017, and this is what became WannaCry. EternalBlue is suspected of having leaked even earlier than that, potentially a year prior.

Huawei, the Irish government, and UCD

Following the publication of Dr Richard Maher’s report in Defence Forces Review, Tony Yangxu, Huawei Ireland’s chief executive, wrote a letter to Minister for Defence Simon Coveney and the Department of Defense. In the letter, Mr Yangxu says that Huawei is “a strong supporter of the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression” but that this was “a two-way street.” The letter requests a meeting with Ms McCrum and Mr Coveney, which took place on the 23rd of December, 2020.

After The Irish Times report, David Farrell, head of UCD Politics, tweeted a condemnation of “this attack on academic freedom” by Mr. Yangxu. Huawei has faced pressures internationally ever since its placement on the entity list in the United States, and it is in a rather delicate position. If Mr. Yangxu had asked for the report to be retracted, that would constitute an attack on academic freedom, but he did not. Instead, Mr. Yangxu asked for a meeting and re-stated several critical facts about Huawei’s operations in Ireland. While we don’t know what was said during the meeting, nothing publicly available would suggest that Huawei or Mr. Yangxu attempted to have Dr. Maher’s report retracted or altered. 

UCD has long been a beneficiary of Huawei’s continued investment in Ireland and Huawei’s continued investment in both UCD, and Ireland as a whole, has resulted in the creation of jobs and opportunities for many of the Irish people. 

In the paper written by Dr Maher, he says that “the mere knowledge that China could use its position to infiltrate or disrupt these networks would itself be a form of leverage.” This statement is true of any company from a foreign power providing an essential piece of infrastructure. Ericsson and Nokia both supply necessary telecom equipment to leading mobile providers in Ireland, and they are Swedish and Finnish respectively. Companies such as Apple sell products in Ireland with a significant mobile market share, and Apple has close ties to the United States government. Why are UCD professors focusing on Huawei, a company with no documented instances of spying, when the United States government has been caught on numerous occasions either doing the same, or attempting to?

You can download our new College Tribune app.

As I’ve already stated, there are several reasons to be critical of the Chinese Communist Party, as the alleged acts perpetrated by it are abhorrent. Having said that, the actions perpetrated by the United States are no different on a global scale. Continued drone strikes in the middle east alongside actual human rights abuses on the southern border paint the United States as no better than the country it continually attempts to undermine. Bilal Abdul Kareem, a journalist working in Syria, alleged in a federal lawsuit that the United States government had tried to kill him via drone strike on five different occasions during the previous year. The full article is available on The Atlantic.

Whether or not Huawei’s reputation in Ireland has been damaged considerably due to the report written by Dr. Maher remains to be seen. Nor do we know if the condemnation of the company by UCD staff may mean more to come later. Does Mr. Farrell truly speak for “all” of his colleagues at UCD? Does every single staff member at UCD believe that a meeting request was a violation of academic freedom? 

Defence Forces Review is indeed a state-sponsored paper, with the report effectively being an official state document. If the Irish government were to take the paper’s information at its word, Huawei would feel that it never had a say in the proceedings, which is more or less what has happened worldwide. The request for a meeting makes sense, and if anything, attempting to prevent Huawei from making any kind of official response to the report suggests an attempt from UCD’s staff to stifle Huawei’s free speech.

Adam Conway – Tech Reporter