Huawei denies claims of wrongdoing in North Korea and Czech Republic and downplays EU cybersecurity concerns

Stuart Lau

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei on Tuesday denied media reports that suggested it had engaged in potentially unlawful activities in North Korea and the Czech Republic, while playing down European policymakers’ general cybersecurity worries.

“We have never been engaged in any intelligence activities in the Czech Republic, and we do not operate in the DPRK,” Jakub Hera Adamowicz, Huawei’s European Union media manager, said, referring to North Korea’s official name at a press conference in Brussels.

Czech public radio on Monday alleged that a unit of Huawei in the Central European country had “secretly collected personal data of customers, officials and business partners”.

It said the data was stored in a system that could be accessed by Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen in southeastern China’s Guangdong province.

Huawei’s booth at an industry show in Shanghai in June. Photo: Bloomberg

The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported that Huawei, working with a Chinese state-owned company, had “secretly helped” Pyongyang build and maintain North Korea’s commercial wireless network.

The allegations came as the European Commission gathers feedback from EU member states and other parties on cybersecurity risks as it sets policy guidelines for its next-generation 5G technology.

Huawei, increasingly tagged a cybersecurity risk in the West, has published a position paper online detailing the 10 big digital challenges it says will require European decision-makers’ close attention in the future.

But a European official who had reviewed the paper and spoke on condition of anonymity called it “quite astonishing that Huawei listed cybersecurity as the last of the 10 challenges”.

“[Cybersecurity], after all, is the only challenge it faces,” the official said.

Huawei described cybersecurity as “a never-ending story” in the report.

“It is not a problem that can be solved by a ‘once and for all’ security design,” the company wrote.

Huawei ‘helped North Korea and secretly collected Czech data’

“We must accept that the inherent openness of our ICT [information and communication technology] infrastructure … and the presence of criminal intentions will make cybersecurity a permanent challenge.”

The paper also called for international cooperation to crack down on cybersecurity crimes.

Juhan Lepassaar, a central figure in the drafting of the European Union’s 5G technology policy, has been named to lead the EU’s cybersecurity agency just as the latest allegations against Huawei surface. Photo: European Union Agency for Cybersecurity

The other issues it outlined included green digital policies, European telecommunication operators and smart cities.

On artificial intelligence, it said: “Whilst it is true that industry players in the US and China have a lead, there is strong potential in Europe in terms of talent, research and industry capabilities.”

In the paper, Huawei urged Europe to take advantage of its latent abilities to embrace opportunities in the global AI industry and build out its local capacity with the help of investments from international companies.

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