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YOU ASK, WE ANSWER: SPY GAMES
“What is the whole Huawei crisis and how was Vancouver, Canada involved? (If it was.)”
– Caroline F., Vancouver, B.C.
You’ll be forgiven if you have zero idea what we’re talking about right now (plus, it’s also 8am on a Sunday morning).
While Huawei’s been in the news quite a bit lately, we’ve sort of skipped over what the heck the company even does. ICYMI, Huawei is a Chinese telecom provider and smartphone maker.
Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding its devices and 5G equipment. But before we dig into the drama, first things first: how the heck do you even say Huawei?!
Turns out, it’s pronounced Wah-Way.
The company got tired of everyone saying it wrong so it made a video to explain.
OK, SO WHY ALL THE FUSS?
Like the rest of the world, Canada is working on building out its 5G networks.
This new generation of wireless technology is expected to improve our existing networks in three main areas: connectivity, latency (the length of time it takes to transfer information across the network) and greater bandwidth (faster download speeds).
Many of the wireless networks you’re familiar with (Bell, Rogers) will be part of Canada’s 5G network, but the infrastructure of the network itself will be built out by select global players.
Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei are the leading contenders.
The core issue with Huawei isn’t really about its product, but rather, its link to the Chinese government. (Yep, that oppressive communist government.)
Some countries, most notably the U.S. (Canada is still a bit unsure), are worried that the Chinese government could be using Huawei equipment to spy on other countries and companies.
According to U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai, the fear is that potential “hidden ‘backdoors’ to our networks in routers, switches, and other network equipment can allow hostile foreign powers to inject viruses and other malware, steal Americans’ private data, spy on U.S. businesses, and more.”
A BRIEF HISTORY
Huawei was founded in 1987 but it remained relatively under the radar for most of us until national security allegations came to a head in January 2018.
That’s when the U.S. essentially started blackballing Huawei from working with American carriers like AT&T and Verizon.
This is also around the time the U.S.-China trade war officially started, and Huawei claimed the U.S. was using unfounded political fears to simply keep them out of the market. (Probably a legit argument considering who’s in charge of making America great again.)
Since then, the U.S. has gone for a complete ban, and even barred companies (like Google) from selling U.S. technology to Huawei.
Australia and New Zealand also banned Huawei 5G equipment, citing national security fears. Other countries like Britain and Germany are at the very least skeptical and considering partial bans
SO WHERE DOES CANADA STAND?
The U.S. has been pressuring the Canadian government, urging Trudeau to exclude Huawei from building out Canada’s 5G capabilities.
But of course, the U.S. isn’t simply looking out for their neighbour to the north; they worry that allowing Huawei access to Canadian networks could create risks for American networks.
For the most part, Canada has been attempting to make up its own mind and stay out of the drama.
But in December 2018, Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the request of the U.S. The charges are based on suspicions she violated U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.
Wanzhou (who also happens to be the daughter of Hauwei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei) was released on bail and is under house arrest, but the U.S. has continued to seek extradition. The next court date is scheduled for sometime in September 2019.
Both Huawei and the Chinese government protested Wanzhou’s arrest saying the move was political. Shortly after that — as in nine days later — Chinese authorities arrested two Canadians on suspicion of espionage. (Sounds a bit like retaliation to us.)
In any case, Canada is still trying to remain calm and levelheaded. The Canadian government is currently reviewing whether to use the company’s 5G equipment.
AND WHAT DOES HUAWEI SAY?
Of course, Huawei denies any ties to the Chinese government.
But security analysts argue that Chinese surveillance agencies could still sneak malware into any network, with or without the co-operation of Huawei.
Since the U.S. ban, Huawei’s founder says the company’s revenue is billions less than they originally forecast.
So all that to say, it doesn’t sound like this beef between the U.S. and China is going to simmer anytime soon.