Chinese telco giant Huawei hits back at claims that Beijing can order it to spy

iStock
  • Huawei Australia has publicly responded to claims the Chinese telecommunications giant is a national security threat.
  • Huawei is currently bidding to be provide parts of Australia’s new 5G network but there have been reports of reservations from intelligence officials.
  • Chinese law requires organisations to cooperate with “national intelligence work” when asked.
  • Australian Chairman John Lord said this law only applies within China and that the company would never provide data to Chinese authorities on users in other countries.

Huawei Australia Chairman John Lord has hit back at “uninformed” and “plain wrong” claims that the telecommunications company is a national security threat.

Huawei is currently bidding to provide equipment to Australia’s new 5G network which has raised security and intelligence concerns. But Lord, a former rear admiral in the Australian Navy, told the National Press Club on Wednesday that decades of accusations against the Chinese company have never been proven.

“Much has been written about Huawei,” Lord said. “And much of it has been uninformed or just plain wrong.”

Part of the security fear is the ease with which the Chinese Communist Party could possibly order Chinese companies to participate in “national intelligence work” and in turn provide access to critical Australian infrastructure.

China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law states: “All organisations and citizens shall, in accordance with the law, support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work, and guard the secrecy of national intelligence work they are aware of.”

But Lord said the legal interpretation provided to the company was that it didn’t apply to international activities, and that even if the company received a “completely illegal” request from China for data of a user in Australia it would not hand it over.

“That law has no legitimacy outside China,” Lord said. “[And] the law actually contains some safeguards that discharge individuals and organisations that would contradict their legitimate rights and interests.”

ScreenshotHuawei Australia Chairman John Lord.

In 2012, Huawei was not allowed to tender for Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) due to cybersecurity concerns, a decision that was based on advice from the national security agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

On Wednesday, Lord said this decision was made “because we were a Chinese company and they could not guarantee our equipment at that time.”

He also said the company had failed to promote its brand at that time.

“Why should they [Australians] care about the fate of a company they most likely can’t pronounce the name of,” Lord joked.

Earlier this year, during a visit to the US, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was reportedly briefed by the head of the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security regarding concerns over Huawei’s potential role in the 5G network.

Six intelligence chiefs – including the heads of the CIA, FBI, and NSA – testified in February they would not recommend private citizens use products from Huawei, Australia’s defence department told Business Insider it no longer uses Huawei phones, and the Pentagon announced it stopped selling Huawei phones and modems on its military bases because they “may pose an unacceptable risk.”

Recent reports suggested Huawei is almost guaranteed to be excluded from supplying equipment to the 5G network for similar reasons. In response, Huawei sent a letter to Australian MPs and senators, trying to convince politicians of the value Huawei could provide.

On Tuesday, a new report found that over the last eight years, Huawei was the largest corporate sponsor of all international trips taken by federal Australian politicians.

The data, which was collated from parliamentary registers, raised questions about the appropriateness of accepting trips from companies vying to provide critical national infrastructure.

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at research.businessinsider.com.au.