OTTAWA — The fallout would be catastrophic if Huawei Canada used its role in a next-generation 5G wireless network to conduct espionage on behalf of Beijing, says a senior company official.
Critics wary of the Chinese firm should think rationally about the notion of Huawei risking tens of billions of dollars by engaging in illicit activity for spymasters, said Scott Bradley, Canadian vice-president of corporate affairs for Huawei.
“I think people need to step back a little bit and think of the simple dollars-and-cents economic impact if in fact any of this activity ever happened,” he said. “There are perceptions that need to be challenged.”
Huawei has built a solid track record in Canada over the last decade, employing 960 people, conducting research and abiding by stringent security provisions, Bradley stressed.
The comments come as the federal government weighs Huawei’s possible participation in a 5G wireless system that will allow Canadians to do more on cellphones and other mobile internet-connected devices, at vastly greater speeds.
Private companies such as BCE and Telus will do the building, but the government could forbid them to use certain products on security grounds.
Canada is part of an intelligence-sharing network called the “Five Eyes,” along with the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand have banned Huawei from supplying 5G equipment.
The recent arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver following a request from U.S. authorities has only heightened tensions around the coming federal decision. Word also emerged Thursday that Canadian companies were among the targets of alleged state-sponsored Chinese hackers indicted by American authorities.
Throughout, Huawei Canada has kept its profile low, declining to comment on Meng’s arrest and repeating that it would work with Canadian authorities to meet their security and privacy standards.
In Thursday’s extensive interview with The Canadian Press, Bradley acknowledged that China is a complex market in which to do business.
“It’s not easy, and no one pretends that it is,” he said. “And there’s lots of issues and challenges that come with that. Are we going to deal with them, or are we not going to deal with them?”
The security issues coming to the fore in the 5G review are nothing new for the company, Bradley said.
“Huawei, in Canada, has been committed to doing things exactly how the government wants Huawei to do it.”
Huawei’s products can already be found in Canada’s mobile networks and the company is bound by guidelines, he noted.
They require hardware to be examined by the Communications Security Establishment’s review program, restrict Huawei products from being used in the central cores of mobile networks or in critical infrastructure like electrical grids, and prohibit the company from selling to the government.
In a letter to the CSE’s new Cyber Security Centre, Huawei Canada says it is “making a series of commitments” to ensure the security and integrity of 5G networks in Canada and around the world.
Bradley said the company would spell out these commitments in coming days.
Security experts say Huawei’s role in 5G could give it access to a wide range of data gleaned from how, when and where Canadian customers use their electronic devices — information that Beijing would find most attractive.
Bradley played down such suggestions, saying there are already safeguards ”all down the line” to ensure nothing of the sort could take place.
If there are genuine worries about China stealing intellectual property, Huawei Canada offers a textbook example of how a Chinese firm can be profitable in the West by staying onside, he said.
“Huawei being successful here in Canada and playing by the rules is a pretty important to China and a pretty important message to Chinese technology companies there looking to go out and invest in other markets around the world.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Thursday that Canada is examining all of the commercial and security issues on 5G to make a well-informed, intelligent decision that is in the best interest of Canada.
“You can be assured that protecting the security and the safety of Canadians will be an important factor that we take into account.”