MIT Cuts Ties With Huawei & ZTE, Citing Cyber Security Risks

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is cutting ties with Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE, the Boston-based university said this week.

The move will see MIT reject all pending "engagement" proposal that came from Huawei and ZTE, in addition to not renewing existing ones. The two should not bother making further collaboration pitches to the university either.

While both Huawei and ZTE have been subjected to intense scrutiny regarding cyber security concerns for over a year (or 15 years, depending on how one defines "intense") now, MIT did not find those developments as alarming as the latest turn of events that saw Huawei, its subsidiaries and officials charged with a wide variety of crimes concerning embargo violations and trade secret theft.

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Changing the rules

MIT Research VP Maria Zuber and associate provost Richard Lester admitted as much in a joint letter to colleagues explaining the policy change. Officially, the decision to cut ties with Huawei and ZTE is a result of an MIT probe authorized on the basis of the university's existing relationship with the duo being classified as an "elevated risk international partnership."

The term in question wasn't part of any MIT policy prior to the newly announced move, making it clear that the renowned university is cutting Huawei and ZTE loose primarily due to the potential implications continued partnerships could have for its image.

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The ongoing investigations related to sanctions violations are threatening Huawei officials all the way up to the C-suite level; the company's CFO Meng Wanzhou, also the daughter of its founder Ren Zhengfei, is presently fighting an extradition request in Canada as she's facing up to 30 years in prison in the United States based on already filed charges of international banking fraud, among others.

According to an unsealed indictment and previous media reporting on the matter, the Department of Justice believes Huawei obfuscated its ties to a Hong Kong-based satellite in order to violate trade sanctions imposed on Iran, making hundreds of millions of dollars doing business that involved shipping American tech to the Middle Eastern country, something the Commerce Department explicitly banned and continues to forbid to date.

An exercise in saving face

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MIT now believes any existing or hypothetical collaboration with either Chinese firm would not be worth the associated risk to intellectual property, national security, and the like.

It's unclear why the university wasn't concerned about those issues beforehand; the latest charges against Huawei pertaining to the T-Mobile theft case are based on a well-publicized trial the wireless carrier won in 2017, whereas the rest of them are related to foreign export policy, hardly an area of MIT's influence.

The institute also said it plans to revisit its decision once the circumstances that led to it change, adding that it believes scientific research benefits the mankind as a whole and should ideally be free of any influence from geopolitics, implying that isn't the case here.

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Android Headlines reached out to MIT for comment but has yet to hear back from the university.

In a prepared statement, Huawei said it's "disappointed" by the decision but doesn't blame MIT for making it.

ZTE and Huawei both repeatedly denied the very notion of being used as spying tools by the Chinese government. Opponents of their wireless ambitions argue the very laws China makes publicly available make it clear that companies in the Far Eastern country have no say in whether to cooperate with state-sponsored intelligence gathering, adding it's frivolous to assume Beijing hasn't already compromised many foreigners thanks to the global reach of its telecom and electronics juggernauts.

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Despite stateside pressure, Washington's allies remain reluctant to follow suit in banning Chinese tech with such determination.