Chinese telecom giants hit back at allegations

BY    2012-10-09 20:01:45

  US report accusing firms of being security threat sparks angry denial

  Two telecom giants rejected as "baseless" the findings of a US congressional investigation that accused them of posing a national security risk.

  The allegations indicated growing commercial disputes between China and the United States, especially in the high-tech sector, trade experts said.

  Huawei Technologies Co, the world's second-largest telecom equipment manufacturer in terms of revenue, described the US congressional report as containing "dangerous political distractions” from normal business practice.

  "Baseless suggestions purporting that Huawei is somehow uniquely vulnerable to cyber mischief ignore technical and commercial realities, recklessly threaten American jobs and innovation, do nothing to protect national security, and should be exposed as dangerous political distractions from legitimate public-private initiatives to address what are global and industry-wide cyber challenges,” Bill Plummer, Huawei's US vice-president of external relations, said in an e-mail to China Daily.

  The US House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee said that Huawei and ZTE Corp, the world's fifth-biggest telecom gear maker, should be excluded from the US market because they pose a security threat.

  ZTE urged the committee to extend equal treatment to all telecom equipment makers because "most or all US telecom equipment is made in China, including that provided by Western vendors”, it said in an e-mail to China Daily.

  China hopes the US will "respect reality, discard biases and improve economic relations between China and the US, not vice versa”, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Monday.

  The report, which came amid rising trade disputes between the two countries, surprised experts.

  "The report is not just about economic issues, but goes further with guesswork about alleged conspiracy," said Huo Jianguo, director of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation Institution. "It has obvious political intentions because displaying a tough attitude to Chinese companies may help win more votes with a presidential election campaign going on,” he said.

  More trade disputes are likely to happen in the advanced industries like telecommunications, compared to low-end manufacturing, as Chinese companies move up the value chain and expand globally, Huo said.

  There has been an increasingly large number of trade investigations into Chinese exports, led by the US, since 2009.

  The committee launched a security probe into the two companies in November. In May, a congressional delegation, including some of the committee members, went to China where they met Ren Zhengfei, Huawei's board chairman, and the top management of ZTE.

  On Sept 13, Charles Ding, Huawei's corporate senior vice-president, and Zhu Jinyun, ZTE's senior vice-president for North America and Europe, testified at the House committee hearing. This was the first time the Chinese telecom companies had the chance to communicate with US authorities in public.

  In an interview after the hearing, Zhu told reporters that, due to different social and cultural backgrounds, there was one thing he felt difficult to explain to Americans: the relationship between the government, the Communist Party and the enterprise in China, especially when many Congress members still harbor a Cold War mentality and know little about China's development.

  "ZTE really understands American concern about cyber security, but we expected more constructive solutions from the US government to address the issue instead of just finger-pointing,” Zhu said.

  In a draft of the report made available to Reuters, the panel leaders said that US intelligence must stay focused on efforts by Huawei and ZTE to expand in the US and tell the private sector as much as possible about the purported espionage threat.

  "US network providers and system developers are strongly encouraged to seek other vendors for their projects," it said.

  The report is likely to have an impact on Huawei and ZTE, both of which are expanding aggressively overseas to fuel growth, said analysts.

  "The two companies have been trying to build a larger presence in the US market but failed, and the report is likely to make their business in the US even harder,” said Xiang Ligang, a Beijing-based industry specialist and president of industry website cctime.com.

  The companies may find it more difficult to win deals with US telecom carriers and their mobile phone business will be affected, he added.

  Huawei, which ranks only after Sweden's Ericsson in the global market, conducts 70 percent of its business outside China. It reported sales of $1.3 billion in the US last year.

  The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Huawei is preparing for a public offering, but the company denied the report later. ZTE has a smaller footprint in the US, mainly through sales of devices like smartphones. Its sales in the US were $30 million last year.

  The document cited what it called long-term security risks associated with the companies’ equipment and services but it did not provide detailed evidence, at least not in an unclassified version.

  A classified annex provides "significantly more information adding to the committee's concerns,” the draft said.

  Based on classified and unclassified information, Huawei and ZTE, "cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the US and to our systems”, it said.

  CBS aired a segment on Huawei on Sunday evening during 60 Minutes. The committee's chairman Mike Rogers told the program's host Steve Kroft: "If I were an American company today, and I’ll tell you this as the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and you are looking at Huawei, I would find another vendor if you care about your intellectual property, if you care about your consumers’ privacy, and you care about the national security of the United States of America.”

  Plummer, the only person from Huawei who appeared on the show, insisted that Huawei is a company just doing business.

  The company's "$32.4 billion in revenues last year” was obtained from "150 different markets, 70 percent of our business is outside of China. Huawei is not going to jeopardize its commercial success for any government, period”, he told Kroft.

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