Huawei is a Chinese company charged with building the Government’s ultra-fast broadband network across New Zealand.
This afternoon, the Green Party claimed that Huawei poses a cyber-security threat to New Zealand because of their ties with the Chinese Government and their potential to spy on New Zealand.
The Greens say they have raised concerns because both the Australian and United States Governments have banned the company from installing infrastructure in their countries.
Despite Communications Minister Amy Adams saying there are no grounds for concern, Greens spokesperson Gareth Hughes says most spying in New Zealand comes from China and it is realistic to assume the rising super-power would do so.
So what is Huawei and when did it climb to the top of the world’s communications hierarchy?
Huawei is a relative newcomer to New Zealand, arriving here in 2005 to start the construction of 2Degrees’ new mobile network. It also built Vodafone’s fixed broadband network, which is dubbed ‘the red network’.
The company supplies Telecom, Vodafone and 2Degrees with mobile phone handsets, modems and USB dongles.
In 2011, 2Degrees awarded Huawei the contract to expand their mobile network in New Zealand, and Vodafone Hutchinson Australia awarded Huawei the contract to build a new 3G network which included 8,000 base stations.
They have recently won the contracts to help build large parts of the Government’s ultra-fast broadband network including national rural rollout, and local rollout in Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Whanganui and Canterbury.
Their New Zealand division is based in Auckland and they employ around 80 staff.
Their headquarters in China employs more than 16,000 people, is perfectly manicured and has a massive swimming complex for its employees.
Huawei, pronounced ‘hwa-way’, was founded by former Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer Ren Zhengfei in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China in 1987.
It started off reselling imported telecommunications equipment for the domestic Chinese market before manufacturing its own products.
As the company grew, it was accused of intellectual-property theft and in the early 2000s, it was sued by competitor Cisco for copying computer codes and model numbers – which made it easier for customers to transition to cheaper Huawei products.
The Daily Beast reported in 2006 that there were “persistent rumours the firm is actually run by the PLA” and that they received a “slew of advantages, from government research and development funding to tax breaks and export credits”.
Huawei claims it has no ties to the Chinese Government, despite its founder and chief executive refusing to talk to journalists. The Daily Beast says this “has fuelled the speculation that the company is actually run by the military”.
In 2008, the United States military wrote a report to congress on China’s military power which stated “Huawei…maintains close ties to the PLA and collaborate on research and development”.
Huawei released an open letter afterward saying they were encountering “a number of misperceptions” in the United States, and in the western world.
The letter outlined “unfounded and unproven claims of close connections with the Chinese military, disputes over intellectual property rights, allegations of financial support from the Chinese government and threats to the national security of the US”.
The United States Government has blocked a number of deals with Huawei in the past, citing security concerns. When Huawei purchased US firm 3Leaf, the US foreign investment committee launched an urgent inquiry.
This week, the Australian Government has ruled out Huawei from receiving contracts for their broadband network construction due to fears of Chinese cyber attacks.
Now, the Green Party is questioning the New Zealand Government’s deal with Huawei and want it investigated. They say the fear of “offending the Chinese Government is the over-riding concern of our Government”.