Over the course of a year, Huawei, the Chinese technology giant has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Huawei is currently the undoubted leader in terms of the number of patents it has for 5G technologies. Let me put this into context. Huawei has 2160 declared patent families related to 5G and has filed 1500 more for approvals. In comparison Apple, Blackberry and Sony Corporation put together have filed less than 100 patents. This should have given Huawei the much needed advantage to become a global leader in 5G. But that’s where the trouble started.
Many countries across the world started finding details about how Huawei was indeed deeply involved with the Chinese government. Its communication technologies can provide an unprecedented level of access to the Chinese government if needed. China has already built a surveillance state back home using local data and has even set up a Social Credit System that is defined as a national reputation system. The handling of the data of its own citizens should be some indication as to how it might handle the data of people from other countries.
The bigger picture
The deep links between the company and government became increasingly evident when Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of billionaire Huawei founder Ren Zheng in December 2018. The fact that Huawei was founded by a PLA officer isn’t helping either. Huawei is just one of the pixels in the big picture that is the data war that China is fighting against the entire world. Huawei continues to supply almost 30% of the world’s telecom equipment and this is just one Chinese company out of the hundreds that operate around the world in various domains.
Countries like the US, Australia, Canada, Japan and now India have shown their reluctance to include Huawei in their 5G rollout plans. India has also gone a step further to ban ZTE, another Chinese technology company that has the third largest number of patents in the 5G domain. Less than 24 hour ago, Indian intelligence agencies published a list of more than 50 apps that could be considered a threat to national security. The usual suspects like Xiaomi-Mi Community, Mi Store, Mi Video Call, Zoom, TikTok, UC Browser, Xender, SHAREit, WeChat, VivaVideo and more are on the list. Many of these apps have tens of millions of users in India and this only makes the case worse for India’s national security interests.
Responding to the premeditated attack on our soldiers in Ladakh, the Indian government has banned the use of equipment from Huawei and ZTE for upgrading India’s 4G infrastructure. The Department of Telecom has instructed BSNL to not use equipment from these companies. It will also put a requirement for private companies to not use equipment from these companies and gradually phase out the equipment that already exists. This is amidst rising concerns about equipment from such companies offering the Chinese government a backdoor for cyber espionage.
Even when China says it wants peace, it is somehow perpetually at war with everyone on the planet. At home, it has been at war with its own people for decades now. Chinese authoritarianism is now being exported to every part of the world to support their expansionist tendencies. China understands that embedding malware and backdoors in critical equipment is something that can be leveraged during any conflict. Given how China has always been at odds with everyone in its neighbourhood, the world should be very wary of anything that comes with a label that reads: ‘Made in China’.