When evil is rich, it is all the more dangerous. The truism cannot be truer than it is in the case of Huawei, the largest telecommunications equipment vendor in the world. Cornered by concerned governments of the US and Japan — readers are already aware of reservations of the Indian government about this firm and restrictions imposed by the UK on it — the Chinese company’s founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei did some pep talk, trying to enthuse the firm’s scientists, researchers and interns early last month by saying it will continue developing its 5G and artificial intelligence businesses while working to secure its lead in next-generation technology. Ren, a former engineer with the Chinese army PLA (former director of the PLA General Staff Department’s Information Engineering Academy), is the man whose daughter Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada for fraud recently. That Huawei vehemently denies any alleged connection with spying does not wash. They were not foreigners who first told the world how dangerous China could be; the whistleblowers were Chinese themselves. In 1999, two Chinese Air Force colonels came out with a book of military strategy, which translates to English as Unrestricted Warfare or Warfare Beyond Boundaries. It described the strategy, which included telecommunication mischief leading to a cyberwar, needed to win a conflict with the US. The urge of such a company to grow by hook or by crook is disconcerting, as two countries in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance have practically proscribed Huawei from bringing in next-generation telecom. While New Zealand has not expressly banned Huawei, whenever a network operator in that country wishes to add a product of the company to its system, the government forbids it. What disturbs administrations around the globe about this ambitious company that is based in a country that zealously spies the whole world is that universally despised China could take down telecommunications infrastructure during a time of global crisis, as the network switches, gateways, routers and bridges by Huawei involve everything that uses the internet, which is crucial for its functioning. Even its radio equipment, such as antennae, work at the periphery of cyber espionage. To put it simply, the weapons of an army, navy or air force fighting China will suddenly reduce to being glorified junk as military hardware is largely internet-dependent. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre says the CCP government “could compel anyone in China to do anything” and would indeed “carry out cyberattacks against the UK at some point”. The assessment was hardly paranoid, as Huawei employees have been arrested in the US for their involvement in corporate espionage. The “high-risk vendor”, as the UK’s NCSC classifies it, makes and supplies machines that Americans have rendered useless by designing necessary equipment that would not be compatible with the Chinese product. By taking the far-reaching measure, the US impacted the supply of semiconductors used by Huawei across its product lines ― from radio base stations to servers and smartphones. The Chinese company tried a workaround by using untrusted replacement quickfixes, making its technology more dubious and thereby inviting more restrictions. It was so far so good.
The problem began when greedy companies — there can be none that is not after money — raised a din, complaining that replacing the equipment of Huawei, a company that has CCP members among its decision-makers, would increase the costs and turn their businesses unviable. In India, while Mukesh Ambani heading Jio is the only one in the telecom trade who said boldly he did not need Chinese material to bring 5G to India, his competitors are all slipping Huawei routers into Indian households silently. One is not sure they are avoiding the Chinese connection in larger aspects of the game involving base stations. In the UK, BT and Vodafone have made it clear they love the sheer cheapness that come with Brand China. Lest they should be called callous about national security, they said their demands were driven by customers’ concern, which is a refrain of many a trader. Deliberately overlooking the fact that Hui Xiaobing, president of the Shenzhen Construction Bank, lent Huawei 30 million yuan while the science and technology bureau of China provided comprehensive services around Huawei, businessmen are building a calamitous atmosphere in their respective countries, as a report from the Netherlands had projected. There are several other pieces of evidence suggesting the Chinese state is fiercely safeguarding the interest of the company that is driven by a techno-nationalist policy. Beijing went to the extent of threatening the Boris Johnson government with dire consequences if it did not withdraw the restrictions on the firm.
The last time Huawei was heard of from the Indian government was when Ravi Shankar Prasad had to issue a clarification in the capacity of the then union minister for electronics and information technology. The remark, which had sounded a word of caution, cannot suffice as a policy statement. It is time the government formulated an unambiguous rule. Since a state law cannot name a company, it should be worded in a manner that Huawei, even without being named, will find it impossible to do business in India. Simultaneously, New Delhi must issue a stern warning to the telephone and broadband service providers that are pushing mala fide Chinese products into networks in the country.