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2001-2019: Huawei’s long history of being considered a national security threat

The US, which added Huawei to a trade blacklist amid escalating trade tensions with China last month, has since urged its allies – including India – to also cut ties with the Chinese firm. The US considers Huawei to be an arm of the Chinese government and thus a threat to its national security. Washington has “warned” the Indian government that Indian companies that supply American-origin products to could face severe punishment, the Economic Times reported today. The US had sent a letter on  this to the Ministry of External Affairs on May 27th, in a clear effort to pressure India to act against the Chinese firm.

On receiving the letter, the MEA urged the Department of Telecom (DoT) to clear its stand on the participation of Huawei in developing 5G technology in India, according to a report by Times of India. The ministry wanted DoT’s inputs to be “factored into the preparatory material” that it will send to the PMO ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the G20 Summit in Japan later this month. A high-level committee at MEA is currently looking into whether Huawei should be allowed to participate in India’s 5G trials, slated to begin later this year.

These developments come amid growing concerns of India getting embroiled in the US-China trade war. Earlier, the head of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) PS Raghavan said that the rhetoric from the US and China on Huawei pointed to the possibility of a “technology war” between the two nations. He said that Europe is “stuck somewhere in between” and India was “in the danger of being caught in it very badly unless we get our act together”.

India was the first country to put Huawei on a watchlist, 18 years ago

Last month, the US Commerce Department added Huawei and 70 affiliates to its ‘Entity List’, which prevented the company from buying components from US companies without the government’s approval. The enormity of the decision soon became clear when Google cancelled Huawei’s Android licence, and chipmakers Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom and Xilinx  suspended shipments to the Chinese company “until further notice”. The US’s core concern is Huawei’s close relationship with the Chinese government and fears that its equipment could be used to spy on other countries. A look into the history of the company shows that other governments, including India’s, have also expressed concerns about ‘national security’ with respect to Huawei. Here’s a timeline:

2001: Strike one with India

  • Huawei’s first fallout happened with the Indian government in December 2001. The firm was placed on a watchlist in India as intelligence agencies believed that Huawei was supplying the Taliban in Afghanistan with military telecommunications equipment.

2007-09: Beginnings of Huawei’s patchy history with the US

  • The US began investigations into Huawei for possible violations of trade sanctions, citing the firm’s alleged business activities in Iran. The next year, Huawei made a bid to buy Massachusetts tech company 3COM but administrators called for the Bush administration to block the deal. The deal was blocked in 2008. The reason? National security.
  • In 2009, Britain warned local telecom operator BT Mobile about possible Chinese attacks due an alleged security hole in Huawei’s equipment. The same year, Huawei launched its first Android phone.

2010-12: Bans on Huawei increase, US probes Huawei’s sister ZTE

  • Huawei faced turbulence in the US yet again after the Obama administration banned the firm from developing Sprint’s mobile network, citing national security concerns.
  • Despite its hardships in the US, it built a massive research facility in California with the hope of expanding its market share. But, The US government, in 2011, barred the firm from the national wireless network for emergency services, again citing national security concerns.
  • Within a year, Australia banned Huawei from its National Broadband Network and an 11-month investigation into Huawei and sister company ZTE in the US resulted in the conclusion that ZTE’s telecom equipment couldn’t be trusted.

2013-14: Escalations in the US

2018: US-China trade tensions begin

2019: Trade war reaches an all time high, Huawei responds

  • Late January, saw the US Justice Department unseal indictments that included 23 counts pertaining to the alleged theft of intellectual property, obstruction of justice and fraud related to Huawei’s alleged evasion of US sanctions against Iran.
  • Meanwhile in Poland, a Huawei employee was arrested on suspicion of being a Chinese spy.
  • The US turned up the heat again on May 15 when it added Huawei to its Entity List. Over the next five days, Google, Intel, Qualcomm, Arm, the SD Association, and others said they would stop working with Huawei.
  • China arrested two Canadian nationals on the grounds of national security. This led to a 90-day truce between the US and China.
  • Google told the Trump administration that cutting ties with with Huawei would be an even bigger national security threat.
  • Huawei sought quick reply from India on 5G trial participation: Huawei called on India to decide quickly whether the company would be allowed to participate in the development of 5G technology in the country. DoT, however, appeared to be divided on the issue, given the sensitive nature of Sino-Indian diplomatic ties.
  • Huawei said that there would be a delay in the launch of its foldable smartphone, the Mate X.
  • Huawei filed to trademark its own mobile OS in Peru: Huawei urged Peruvian telecom authorities to trademark its “Hongmeng” OS. This could possibly mean that Huawei would deploy the Hongmeng OS if the US doesn’t relax its sanctions. Indecopi – Peru’s anti-trust agency – said that the company filed the request on May 27, days after the US added Huawei to its entity list. Huawei’s CEO Richard YU had said in an interview with German outlet Die Welt that his firm had a “backup plan” in case it was denied access to Android.

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