Huawei on Tuesday once again dismissed spying concerns and related allegations stemming from the West, with one of its top officials on the Old Continent going as far as to deny the existence of certain legal powers vested in China’s communist government.
Tim Watkins, Vice President of Huawei Western Europe, asserted the conglomerate would not comply with Beijing’s information requests in a hypothetical scenario wherein it receives any such demands that involve compromising customer data, especially that of foreign clients. The executive also said Huawei never received any requests of the sort, thus reiterating the claim often parroted by his colleagues in recent years.
One doesn’t have to go any further than the case of Edward Snowden for evidence that the American government spies on its citizens in a manner that sometimes doesn’t involve warrants or relies on some sort of obfuscated justification like a secret court order or a regulatory framework that’s both gray and open to interpretation by design.
How the U.S. compares to China depends on the criteria used but as far as personal freedoms and government oppression are concerned, the Far Eastern country is certainly much more aggressive in its efforts to monitor the general public than Washington ever was or even attempted to be, according to countless nonprofit reports, activists, and Western intelligence. In other words, the very suggestion that China never secretly approached Huawei with dubious information requests when we know those are so ubiquitous in the West — a bastion of personal freedoms, especially in comparison to the Show Beijing is running — is frivolous at best and laughable at worst.
The damning law
The same goes for the suggestion Huawei is in a position to deny such government demands; that’s an argument that stood only in theory until the summer of 2017 when China’s National Intelligence Law went into effect, mandating all private individuals and companies participate in the government’s intelligence collection activities and comply with any information requests stemming from spying on any domestic or foreign person or entity to whatever extent is demanded of them.
The only legal requirement that must be fulfilled is for such requests to be related to intelligence work that’s defensive in nature. What are the criteria for assessing the degree of proactivity of China’s state-sponsored data collection efforts? That’s the catch – there are none. Whatever government officials declare as pertaining to defensive intelligence gathering is treated as such and failure to comply with its demands places any company on a rather short path toward being taken over and/or crippled with sanctions.
When it comes to enforcing the laws protecting Beijing’s oppressive spying activities, its courts are extremely swift, which is significant to note seeing how we’re talking about a country with a quadruple-digit number of death sentences per year, as well as over 50 capital offenses. Unsurprisingly, many of those include non-violent crimes covering areas like national security endangerment.
In short, if a Chinese agency approaches you with a discreet data collection request meant to compromise a foreign customer, you comply because the potential consequences of not doing so are simply not worth it.
Yet that doesn’t stop Huawei from claiming the opposite; this January, its founder and current member of the Communist party, Ren Zhengfei, personally did as much. It’s still hard to blame the company for those dubious statements seeing how Beijing itself is making them, at least when it comes to international politics; several months back, China’s foreign affair ministry denied that the aforementioned law is being enforced in a way that allows authorities to easily compel firms and individuals to cooperate with a broad range of intelligence gathering.