Communications companies in Canada and around the world are now building new wireless networks known as 5G (fifth generation) to replace equipment now in use and accommodate a huge increase in communications traffic. The Chinese company Huawei, already a supplier to Canadian telecom firms, offers 5G equipment at attractive prices.
The United States government, however, has been warning that Huawei equipment may give the Chinese government means to gather information from unsuspecting users of 5G networks and may permit Chinese sabotage of public services plugged into Huawei equipment. Canada’s federal government has to decide whether to allow Bell, Telus and other Canadian companies to take advantage of low Huawei prices and risk Chinese abuse of their networks.
Huawei founder and leader Ren Zhengfei, a charming and affable engineer and entrepreneur, has often said he does not take orders from the Chinese government and would never carry out espionage. The U.S. government counters that Chinese law obliges all Chinese companies to support the gathering of intelligence for China. The U.S. has threatened to sever intelligence-sharing links with countries that install Huawei equipment in their 5G networks.
We should rely on our own experience ‐ and that experience teaches that when you do business with Huawei you are dealing with the Chinese Communist Party and the government of China, and that the full might of a repressive totalitarian regime may be used against you if you do not promptly comply with Huawei’s wishes.
The Canadian companies that already use Huawei equipment are happy with it and want to buy more. Canada’s experience with Huawei, however, also includes the Meng Wanzhou extradition case, which shows that Huawei and the Chinese Communist government are tied very closely together.
Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou 14 months ago, as she changed planes in Vancouver, at the request of U.S. prosecutors who accuse her of fraud against the firm’s bankers. She is Ren Zhengfei’s daughter. The Chinese police retaliated against Canada by imprisoning former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor and by blocking Chinese purchases of Canadian canola and other agricultural products.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesmen have made it plain that Canada-China relations will not improve until Canada releases Ms. Meng. She is free on bail in Vancouver but forbidden to leave. A judge has heard the U.S. claim for her extradition and Ms. Meng’s objections. The judicial process may continue many months before a decision is reached.
Because of these events, Canada is not merely guessing about the relationship between Huawei and the Chinese government. We know from our own experience that Huawei and the Chinese government are closely connected – to such a point that Chinese police snatch Canadian hostages off the streets on Huawei’s behalf and Chinese food inspectors suddenly discover defects in Canadian canola shipments in support of Meng Wanzhou.
Canada should not exclude Huawei equipment just because the U.S. tells us to do so and utters sinister threats of non-co-operation. We should rely on our own experience — and that experience teaches that when you do business with Huawei you are dealing with the Chinese Communist Party and the government of China, and that the full might of a repressive totalitarian regime may be used against you if you do not promptly comply with Huawei’s wishes.
The Americans can also be unreasonable and can abuse their power. They do not, however, take hostages to enforce their will.
We should not reject Huawei just to show the U.S. we cannot be pushed around. We should consult our own interests and steer clear of a company that relies on hostage-taking to achieve its goals. The competitors’ equipment may be more expensive; so be it.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.