Huawei Proposes Security Center in Australia

The networking equipment maker is looking to allay national security fears in Australia, the U.S. and elsewhere regarding its relationship with the Chinese government.

Huawei, under pressure in the United States and overseas over suspicion that its telecommunications equipment could pose a national security risk, reportedly is looking to allay those fears, starting in Australia.

Officials in the U.S, the U.K., Australia and elsewhere have voiced concerns that Huawei’s close ties to the Chinese government make the company’s telecom equipment a national security risk, and are making moves to limit Huawei’s presence in those countries. Australia in March would not allow Huawei to participate in the bidding for its national broadband network.

In the United States, the House Intelligence Committee issued a report that said it found that both Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecom company, also could pose a threat to U.S. national security and advised U.S. companies involved in sensitive government systems not to do businesses with the Chinese companies.

Officials from both companies pushed back at the congressional report, and Huawei executives dismissed the concern that the report could negatively impact their company financially. However, the company reportedly is looking to ease government concerns about security and transparency.

In comments to Australia’s National Press Club Oct. 24, John Lord, chairman of Huawei's business in that country, said the company needed to do better in combating the idea that Huawei poses a threat.

"Huawei has done a very poor job of communicating about ourselves and we must take full responsibility for that," Lord said in his remarks, according to the BBC. He noted that for most of Huawei’s 25 years, it was a business-to-business company and didn’t see the need to “sell ourselves” to the public. That has changed.

Lord said that Huawei is proposing creating a national cyber-security evaluation center, where telecom equipment from all vendors could be tested for security risks and vulnerabilities. The center would allow for greater transparency into the communications technologies being used in the country, and would be paid for by various telecom equipment vendors, Lord said, stressing the need for vendors and government regulators to work together to reduce fears over security issues.

"No single country, agency, vendor, or telco has all the answers to solving cyber-security issues," Lord said, according to the BBC. "It requires a collaborative approach by all to ensure we can create the most secure telecommunications environment possible."

He said that countries worldwide will have to move in the direction of greater transparency to ensure security, particularly given the growing central role telecom technology has in a world of increasing globalization. The development of security assurance frameworks will be crucial, and the creation of the center in Australia could become a part of that, Lord said.

A similar facility has already been established in the U.K., where Huawei offers product source code to British security agencies, enabling regulators to test the security in the company’s equipment and easing Huawei’s path to selling gear into that country.

While looking to assuage concerned Australian regulators, Lord echoed what other Huawei officials have said, calling the statements in the congressional report “protectionism” rather than security, and saying that other countries, like Australia, should not get involved in what is part of an ongoing dispute between the United States and China over trade.

Huawei’s rivals, including networking giant Cisco Systems, have looked to push their concerns about both Huawei and ZTE over issues of transparency and security. Cisco CEO John Chambers has said that Huawei increasingly is Cisco’s most worrisome competitor—more so than Hewlett-Packard or Juniper Networks—and that the Chinese company does not always “play by the rules.” Huawei executives have disputed that claim.