|Huawei advertising is displayed on a street in Shanghai on May 10, 2019. AFP-Yonhap|
By Owen Churchill, Nectar Gan
"We are willing to sign no-spy agreements with governments, including the UK government, to commit ourselves to making our equipment meet the no-spy, no-back-doors standard," Liang Hua said at a company-sponsored business conference in London.
The concession from the smartphone maker comes as the US seeks commitments from its allies to not use Huawei as they build their next-generation 5G telecommunications infrastructure.
Washington, which has already banned the use of Huawei devices by its own governmental agencies, claims that the company is a national security risk because it might accede to demands from Beijing to allow access to networks and private users' data.
Huawei's founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, has vociferously pushed back against accusations that the company has installed back doors, and, according to Tim Watkins, Huawei's vice-president for western Europe, has vowed to close the company should the Chinese government insist that it hand over user data.
|Signage is seen at the Huawei offices in Reading, Britain, May 2, 2019. Reuters-Yonhap|
"[Ren] has made it very clear that he has never been asked to hand over any customer data or any information," Watkins told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday.
"He's made it very clear … if he was asked, that he would refuse and if it was attempted to be forced he would shut the company down."
Such defences have fallen on deaf ears in Washington, with one senior state department official telling lawmakers on Tuesday that, under China's ruling Communist Party, no Chinese company has the agency to resist orders from central government, in part because there is no independent judiciary through which appeals can be issued.
"No company can object and say 'I don't want to follow the mandate of Xi Jinping,'" Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber and international communications and information policy, said at a US Senate hearing on the national security implications of 5G technology.
"It's one-party state, Communist rule and they have to follow the dictates of that government," said Strayer.
|Deputy assistant secretary of State for cyber, international communications and information policy Robert Strayer testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on '5G: National Security Concerns, Intellectual Property Issues, and the Impact on Competition and Innovation' on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, May 14. EPA-Yonhap|
As Washington seeks to convince partners to follow suit in its campaign against the telecommunications company, Strayer said that the US would reconsider its security relationships with those countries that decide to enter contracts with Chinese vendors such as Huawei.
"We have to protect our information," Strayer said. "If there's a high degree of risk, which we think that these vendors create in the system, then we will have to reassess how we're sharing that information in the future with our partners."
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo implored the British government to refuse Huawei participation in the construction of its 5G network.
"The US has an obligation to ensure the places where we operate ― places where US information is, places where we have national security risks ― that they operate within trusted networks and that is what we will do," Pompeo said in London following talks with UK prime minister Theresa May and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Strayer confirmed that while no American company is currently building the radio component of 5G technology, the four main carriers in the US ― AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile ― had all committed to rejecting Huawei as they construct their 5G networks.
|Chinese employees work on the smart phone metal-outer-parts automated assembly line at Everwin Precision Technology Company's manufacturing factory in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, on May 10, 2019. UPI-Yonhap|
Christopher Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said at Tuesday's hearing that the threat of cyber espionage and attacks from China against a country relying on telecoms equipment from Chinese companies like Huawei or ZTE Corp could be three-pronged.
First, Krebs said, "the quality of the engineering is not great, and so there are a number of vulnerabilities that are left open on the box, so China and other capable actors - Russia, Iran, North Korea - could exploit the vulnerabilities".
The second threat, he said, was the lack of oversight concerning Huawei's roll-out of updates.
"The third is, the way they manage this equipment tends to be by shipping out Chinese nationals to the host country for hands-on [maintenance], so you have a physical, insider threat as well," he added.
The US has prohibited government departments and government contractors from using Huawei since last August when US President Donald Trump signed the Defence Authorisation Act into law.
|A Chinese couple browse their smartphones as they walk by the new Huawei P30 smartphone advertisement on display inside a subway station in Beijing, Monday, May 13, 2019. AP-Yonhap|
Huawei has launched a lawsuit against the US government to protest the federal ban, and is also suing the Canadian government over its arrest of chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is facing extradition at the behest of the US government.
In addition to its case against Meng, whom the US has accused of committing wire fraud to circumvent the sanctions around Iran, the Justice Department has also filed indictments against Huawei for alleged theft of trade secrets from T-mobile.
Several major US universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and the University of California at San Diego, have also recently cut ties with Huawei.
The University of Illinois said last month that it would no longer accept grants or contracts from the firm or any of its subsidiaries.
Chairing Tuesday's hearing, at which a number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concern about the national security implications of Huawei's participation in building 5G networks around the world, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that congressional scrutiny was "not about overseeing Huawei, it's about overseeing China".
"And if I were a Nato member, I would get a copy of this hearing and listen to it," he added. "I haven't seen bipartisanship like this in a long time."