The Washington Post reported on Monday, citing sources and internal documents on how Huawei Technologies secretly helped North Korea build and maintain its commercial wireless network.
Huawei reportedly employed a number of tactics in an effort to keep its work under wraps, including partnering with Panda International Information Technology, a Chinese state-owned company over at least eight years. This was as a sort of conduit for its contributions, and in the company, documents referring to North Korea as “A9” instead of its name. Huawei reportedly also used a code in internal documents when referring to its work in Iran and Syria, though it is unclear what role Huawei played.
This move would raise questions about whether Huawei, which has used US technology in its components, violated American export controls to furnish North Korea with equipment.
On the same Monday, Agence France-Presse reported, an investigation conducted by Czech public radio found that the Czech unit of Huawei secretly collected personal data of customers, officials, and business partners.
It cited two former Huawei managers speaking on condition of anonymity, the radio network said Huawei required them to enter the data into computer systems that are only managed by Huawei headquarters in China, according to Agence France-Presse- AFP.
Huawei said in a statement that the accusations made against the company in the AFP report are completely unsubstantiated. It said, “Huawei has never worked with any intelligence-gathering operations whether from the Chinese embassy or any other organization. The way Huawei processes user data in the Czech Republic is in full compliance with all applicable Czech and EU laws.”
Looking back on past events, Huawei has already been in hot water with the U.S. government. The company was put on a US blacklist in May because of national security concerns. The move banned US companies from selling most parts and components to Huawei without special licenses, but last month President Donald Trump said that US firms could resume sales, in a bid to restart trade talks with Beijing.
The Czech Republic and Poland have echoed the US’ hardline policies against Huawei, becoming the most vocal critics of the company within the EU.
The Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency concluded last year that Huawei’s software and hardware posed a threat to state security.
The U.S. Commerce Department has investigated alleged links between Huawei and North Korea since 2016 but has never publicly connected the two. However, its probe remains active. Separately, the Justice Department has charged Huawei with bank fraud and violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran and the company has pleaded not guilty.
However, Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comments but said in a statement to the Washington Post it had no business presence in North Korea.
Afterward, Huawei and Panda vacated their Pyongyang office in the first half of 2016, as sanctions were ramped up, the newspaper reported.
At the moment Huawei Technologies is facing two fresh allegations involving potentially unlawful activities in North Korea and the Czech Republic, casting further doubt on the Chinese telecoms giant’s fate in the US and the European Union.
The two claims, made separately by US and Czech media organizations, have added uncertainty to the future global footprint of the company.
For instance, this discovery of a link between North Korea and Huawei has alarmed the U.S. and European security officials and is most likely to fuel an even deeper suspicion among Western nations contemplating whether to ban the company, in full or in part, from their next-generation 5G wireless networks.
Led by the US, Western countries have accused Huawei of posing a national security threat, highlighting the irresistibility of a Chinese law that they said could force the company to hand over personal data it collected overseas to the Chinese state. This is a concern that forms the heart of the latest Czech claim. The accusation of a so-called “back door” has been rejected repeatedly by Huawei and the Chinese government.
No one has yet found a back door in a Huawei product, but experts say it could happen, and back doors put into 5G infrastructure could be particularly harmful.
Huawei is one of many companies with a stake in the race to deploy the next generation of wireless technology and is currently one of the major providers of products that enable super-fast 5G networks globally. Allies have been pressured by the US to find alternatives, eyeing a future where ever more aspects of everyday life are connected to these networks, opening them up to surveillance and manipulation.
As the Trump administration remains at odds with Beijing over trade, and as the president seeks to restart nuclear negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, this news has come at a particularly vulnerable moment.
Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecoms equipment in terms of sales and one of the largest providers of 5G mobile technology, has become entangled in US President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. But President Trump has held out the possibility of lifting some of the sanctions the US government has placed on the company, and Beijing has said they would need to be part of any negotiations.