US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ‘must investigate Huawei’s influence on American universities’

‘Huawei is a snake in the grass. Their influence on these college campuses is alarming,’ says a lawmaker from Indiana

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 4:15am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 6:08am

The White House and US Congress are at odds over whether to save Chinese telecoms giant ZTE, which has been accused of threatening national security. But that is not the only Chinese company in lawmakers’ sights.

Huawei, another Chinese “national champion” technology firm, is drawing scrutiny for its partnerships with American colleges and universities in areas of technology that the Chinese government is trying to dominate.

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A bipartisan group of 26 lawmakers wrote US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday to highlight the national security implications of Huawei’s research partnerships and other relationships with several dozen American colleges and universities.

They want DeVos to investigate the Huawei Innovation Research Programme and other initiatives through which Huawei partners with institutes of higher education across the country.

“We believe these partnerships may pose a significant threat to national security and this threat demands your attention and oversight,” states the letter, which was organised by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Indiana Representative Jim Banks, both Republicans.

“Huawei is not a normal private-sector company the way we have grown accustomed to thinking of the commercial economy in the West.”

Huawei’s programme, according to its website, funds universities and institutes conducting research in communication technology, computer science, engineering and related fields.

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The lawmakers told DeVos that she should convene a task force to investigate these partnerships and be briefed on Huawei by top intelligence and law enforcement officials.

The US intelligence community has warned for years of Huawei’s links to the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army.

Huawei benefits from extensive Chinese government support, which has fuelled long-standing concern that the company’s equipment in the United States could be used by the Chinese government for spying, cyberattacks or industrial and economic espionage.

Now lawmakers are arguing that Huawei’s partnerships with US institutions of higher education pose broader risks to America’s leadership in the innovation and technology sectors.

“China is using Huawei to position themselves to steal American research,” Rubio said. “They are using so-called ‘research partnerships’ with over 50 American universities to exploit the openness of our schools.”

Rubio and Banks believe that both ZTE and Huawei – as virtual arms of the Chinese government’s overall economic aggression strategy – should be banned from buying US technology components, even if that means they go out of business.

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Banks, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Education Committee’s subcommittee on higher education, said research partnerships at universities were particularly worrisome because they operate under less oversight and transparency.

“It’s fairly obvious to me the Department of Education isn’t at all aware of the threat that Huawei poses, the infiltration that they have succeeded in accomplishing with a broad number of universities around the country,” he said.

“Huawei is a snake in the grass. Their influence on these college campuses is alarming.”

The lawmakers want universities partnering with Huawei to hand over the contracts and details, especially at universities that receive federal funding or participate in research dealing with classified information. If they do not comply, Congress could hold related funding as leverage.

US law enforcement officials have repeatedly expressed concern over Chinese infiltration and espionage on US campuses.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified in February that the bureau was “watching warily” as the Chinese government expands on American campuses in many ways, including through Confucius Institutes and research partnerships.

“They’re exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere. But they’re taking advantage of it,” Wray said.

Huawei denies its ties to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and all accusations of cyber espionage. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Said Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute: “There needs to be a consistent, comprehensive strategy that pushes back on all elements of Chinese economic aggression and that includes holding the line against ZTE and against Huawei.”