Bloomberg has discovered that Huawei employees collaborated with various wings of China's People's Liberation Army on at least 10 research projects. The research assignments covered different topics including artificial intelligence, radio communications, and geographical information system and one of the projects also involved the Central Military Commission, the supreme military body of the far Eastern Country.
This implies that Huawei might be harboring closer ties with the armed forces than it lets on. Huawei, however, denies these accusations and says that it is not aware of any such activities. The telecommunication giant further said that it doesn't have any R&D collaboration with the PLA-affiliated institutions. The company maintains that it only makes communications gear which conforms to global civil standards and does not customize its products for the army.
These sentiments were echoed by Huawei Chief Legal Officer Song Liuping who said that Huawei doesn't carry out any research for the military and it is not aware of its employees doing anything of that sort. It is worth mentioning that it is not unusual for researchers to mention their employer's name on papers without informing them first.
Bloomberg got the papers from periodicals and online research databases that are normally used by academics and industry specialists in China. The authors of ten of those were Huawei employees and the company's name was also listed on top of the papers.
The papers date back to 2006 and since not all research papers make it online, it is possible that Huawei employees might have worked on more such projects with the PLA.
It's not unusual for tech companies and military to collaborate. Even the U.S. military gives out grants for research for projects. However, since Huawei's founder used to work for the military, there are suspicions that the company might be covertly spying for the government through its equipment by installing backdoors.
Moreover, China's government has an iron grip over what goes on in the country and the common belief is that private companies are obliged to provide support and assistance to national intelligence institutions when asked.
Even though the research papers show that some sort of working relationship exists between Huawei and China's military, it is not indicative of close links between the two. Huawei says it doesn't regard the military as a core customer and only sells it a small amount of civilian equipment. The company has also given the assurance that it will never disclose sensitive information to the government.
These claims have been backed by the country's armed forces and the Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe has denied that the military has any official links to Huawei.
However, the U.S. government doesn't seem too convinced and it has suspended all business relations with the company. It is also forcing its allies to do the same. At the heart of the matter is the fear that Huawei could use backdoors to listen in on the activities of the other countries. Moreover, with its gear everywhere, it will also be in a position to bring countries to a standstill with the flick of a switch.