On the Huawei/ZTE Issue

English: The western front of the United State...
The western front of the United States Capitol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A brief comment on the Huawei issue, if I may, since I published a book about the history of the Chinese telecom industry earlier this year.

A Congressional committee has issued a report stating that allowing Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturers Huawei and ZTE to do business in America constitutes a national security risk. Since the specific evidence to support this accusation – given by anonymous tipsters – is veiled under a security classification, neither we nor the companies involved will ever be able to judge for ourselves. Leave that aside for a moment.

After a year of ongoing research, I have found no evidence of government or military control of either Huawei or ZTE. On the contrary, the government has all but ignored Huawei, and Huawei has been forced to rely on global markets rather than government attention for its success. This has made the company not only unbeholden to its government, it has made it the first of China’s truly international companies.

Classifications notwithstanding, the security issue appears to be a canard. The evidence of issues with Chinese-made equipment is apparently unsubstantiated hearsay that the committee has decided to take at face value. It seems that no hard evidence of a single security breach tied to Chinese equipment from either manufacturer even exists. The recommendation by the committee to exclude these companies from any business in the United States is based on the circumstantial existence of “means, motive, and opportunity.” On that basis every gun owner should be convicted of murder, and every parent should be jailed for child abuse.

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is an identifiable risk to the US government or American citizens because of Chinese-made telecommunications equipment. Maybe it is even because the U.S. government has asked its own companies to abet its own espionage by the same means. By making the issue about these two companies, Congress is making America even more vulnerable by positing a solution that doesn’t fix the problem. Most other major equipment makers – Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Nokia-Siemens Networks – make their gear in China, too, and do it increasingly under the supervision of Chinese nationals. Wouldn’t this also be a national security risk? Are we not also vulnerable to equipment made in any foreign company? If this is a problem, this is an industry-wide problem, and not one limited to two companies. A solution would need to involve ALL companies.

If Congress really wanted to solve this problem, they would not simply redline these two companies. What they would do is mandate and fund a “distrust but verify” approach to the problem: assume all equipment is faulty or compromised, and test the equipment rigorously for such problems. As an American, I want everything in our networks checked, whether it is made by the French, the Israelis, the Finns, the Germans, OR the Chinese. And, at the same time, I don’t want us to marry ourselves only to US firms for such procurement. That is both foolish and dangerous, as our Department of Defense is discovering.

The two Chinese companies are not without blame – both need to learn that they need to be at least as transparent as an American, French, or German company in the same business, if not more transparent, in order to deprive Congress of the opportunity to deliver such censure. Whatever its intentions, though, the committee in question has wasted taxpayer dollars on what appears to be a politically-motivated witch hunt. The witch has been found, and the country is no safer than it was a week ago.

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