Five things to know about Huawei | The Daily Star
10:56 PM, July 17, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:59 PM, July 17, 2020

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Five things to know about Huawei

Britain on Tuesday said it would ban mobile carriers from buying new 5G Huawei equipment from 2021 and ordered them to strip out all of the telecom giant's gear by 2027 over long-term concerns with the company's links to the Chinese government.

The British decision was triggered by new US sanctions that blocked the company's access to key US equipment, raising the possibility of Huawei having to switch to alternative suppliers whose safety could not be guaranteed by UK security agencies.

Here are five things to know about Huawei:

Technology giant

Founded by former People's Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei in 1987, Huawei has grown into one of the world's biggest technology firms.

It is the top producer of telecoms networking equipment and the number-two supplier of smartphones, behind Samsung and ahead of Apple.

Huawei equipment carries much of the world's data and communications traffic. It forms the backbone of most hyper-fast 5G networks, which will accelerate new technologies powered by artificial intelligence, such as driverless cars and remote robotics.

Distrust in Washington

Ren's military background and the opaque culture of privately-held Huawei have long fuelled suspicions of close ties to China's one-party security state.

This has stoked the US fears that Beijing could use the firm as a Trojan horse for espionage or cyber-attacks, accusations that company executives strenuously reject.

The US administration has essentially barred Huawei from the US market and waged a global campaign to isolate the company.

Heir apparent's arrest

The Sino-US standoff escalated in late 2018 when Ren's daughter and Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was detained in Canada on a US arrest warrant.

Meng is living in a mansion in Vancouver while out on bail as Canadian courts deliberate whether she can be extradited to the United States. Her extradition trial is set to resume in August. 

Meng, seen as a possible successor to Ren as chief executive, is wanted in the US for allegedly lying to banks about violating Iran sanctions. She denies the allegations.

Ripple effect

Meng's case is being watched in part because of its potential ripple effect on ties between the three countries.

Her arrest caused an unprecedented rift between Canada and China, which then detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor and recently charged them with espionage.

Their arrests have been widely interpreted as retribution by Beijing aimed at pressuring Canada to free Meng.

Former Canadian lawmakers and diplomats urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June to intervene and end Meng's extradition trial in the hope that this could prompt Beijing to free the Canadians.

Trudeau rejected the calls.

On the other side is the United States. President Donald Trump has warned of "complete decoupling" with China amid soaring tensions, even as the two sides pledge to move forward on a trade deal.

High (tech) stakes

The US campaign for global allies to ban Huawei telecoms equipment has squeezed the company out of many potential 5G markets.

Australia and Japan have taken steps to block or restrict the Chinese company's participation in their 5G rollouts, and European telecoms operators including Norway's Telenor and Sweden's Telia have passed over Huawei as a supplier.

Singapore, which tries to maintain good relations with both the US and China, picked Nokia and Ericsson over Huawei as its main 5G network providers in June.

Britain had previously allowed Huawei to roll out up to 35 per cent of the country's 5G network on the condition that it is blocked from handling personal data.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has come under increased pressure to adopt a tougher line on Huawei and China for its treatment of Hong Kong and repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Huawei vice president Victor Zhang warned last week that London's decision "will impact the future of Britain's digital strategy and Britain's digital economy."

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