Arrests in Poland Contribute to the International Controversies Surrounding Huawei

Arrests in Poland Contribute to the International Controversies Surrounding Huawei

By: John Dotson

China Brief

The Jamestown Foundation

Introduction

The December 1, 2018, arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟) in Vancouver—an arrest made by Canadian officials pursuant to a warrant issued in the United States—touched off a three-way diplomatic firestorm between China, Canada, and the United States. However, in the controversy surrounding the arrest of Ms. Meng, a number of other issues surrounding Huawei—including ones of potentially longer-term impact—have received far less attention. Ms. Meng’s arrest, and the arrest of another Huawei employee in Poland (see below), come on the heels of a series of escalating measures—or measures under consideration—by governments in North America and the Pacific Region to restrict the use of Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. Such measures are now increasingly under consideration in Europe, as well, with major implications not only for the international profile of companies such as Huawei, but also for the construction of advanced communications infrastructure throughout much of the world.

In the United States, Huawei and its fellow Chinese telecom company ZTE have long been treated with suspicion on security grounds. In 2012, the Intelligence Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives issued a report that identified the use of equipment by the two firms as a threat to U.S. communications security. [1] Such suspicions became codified in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, which placed formal restrictions on the use of Chinese-manufactured electronics by agencies within the Department of Defense. [2] However, the United States has not been alone in taking a skeptical eye towards Chinese telecommunications companies, and measures to restrict the use of equipment and services from these firms gathered tempo in 2018 and 2019. Citing security concerns, the Australian, New Zealand, and Japanese governments have banned 5G (i.e., fifth generation cellular mobile network) telecom providers from using Huawei equipment; Australia and Japan have further banned the use of equipment from ZTE (SDX Central, December 10 2018).

Controversies in Europe, and Alleged Huawei Spying in Poland

Huawei has established a major market presence in Europe—due in part to the company’s active cultivation of European elites and political parties, as well as its highly competitive bids for major contracts. Huawei has had a particularly large profile in the construction of 5G infrastructure in multiple European countries—signing, for example, a large deal in December 2018 to upgrade Portugal’s largest phone network to the 5G standard (Carnegie Endowment, December 27 2018; South China Morning Post, December 10, 2018).

The controversies regarding Huawei and other Chinese telecom manufacturers, however, have recently spread to the formerly hospitable EU market. In France—which has long been prominent among European Union (EU) countries for restrictive policies intended to protect its national infrastructure (China Brief, January 18)—the national legislature began discussion in early 2019 of a bill that would allow retroactive security inspections in the country’s communications networks, a move widely viewed as linked to concerns about Huawei-manufactured equipment (Telecom Lead, January 22; Reuters, January 21). This latter move sparked a harsh response in the PRC state press, with one commentator calling the French bill “absurd” and a violation of “basic international commercial fairness” (Global Times, January 22).

Controversies surrounding Huawei were further stoked on January 8th, when security officials in Poland arrested two men on grounds of alleged espionage activities. One of the men is a Chinese national officially identified only as “Weijing W.” in accordance with Polish law. However, “Weijing W.” has been widely identified in media as “Wang Weijing,” a man who worked first for the PRC Foreign Ministry at the consulate in Gdansk from 2006-2011, and then assumed public relations and sales positions with Huawei in Poland. The second man, officially identified as “Piotr D.,” is a Polish citizen and former employee of both Orange Polska, Poland’s leading communications provider; and of the Polish Internal Security Agency (Agencja Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego), where he worked in the field of information security until 2011 (Gazeta Prawna.pl, January 11 2019).

Huawei’s Presence in Poland

The arrests in Poland come at a very awkward time for Huawei. Poland has been a primary hub for Huawei’s efforts to expand into Nordic and Eastern European markets: in 2008, Huawei designated its division in Poland (“Huawei Polska”) as the headquarters for these two regions, with a reported 665 employees as of spring 2017. Huawei has also sought to raise its profile in the Polish high-tech sector in other ways, as well: for example, following from an agreement signed in 2015, Huawei was a founding partner of one of Poland’s leading technology research facilities, the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Centre (Huawei press release, September 25 2017).

Huawei’s active marketing in Poland reached a milestone in spring 2018, when the company emerged as the top seller of cell phones in Poland (Xinhua, May 27 2018). Furthermore, in December 2018 Deutsche Telekom announced the kick-off of a 5G network for Poland, with Huawei designated as the sole vendor providing equipment for the network (Gazeta Wyborcza, December 18 2018). In light of the early January arrests, however, the latter deal may be in limbo: Joachim Brudzinski, Poland’s Minister for Internal Affairs , has since issued calls for Poland and the European Union to work out a common position as to whether or not Huawei equipment should be barred from European markets (Money.pl, January 12 2019).

Huawei and the Chinese government have taken markedly different approaches in regards to Meng Wanzhou and Wang Weijing. The official PRC response to the arrest of Meng Wanzhou has been harsh, and has contributed to a major diplomatic chill between the PRC and Canada. [3] The response to Wang’s arrest, however, has been quite different. In Poland, Wang has stated through his attorney that the charges against him are “completely groundless,” and that he “did not cooperate with any kind of intelligence, especially Chinese intelligence” (South China Morning Post, January 23). Despite Wang’s protestations of innocence, PRC officialdom has signaled possible intent to cut Wang loose, with state media reporting on Huawei’s decision to terminate Wang’s employment on grounds that “the incident in question has brought Huawei into disrepute” (China Daily, January 12).

Conclusion

Although the case has yet to be adjudicated in the Polish legal system, the arrests of “Weijing W.” and “Piotr D.” could have a potential chilling effect on Huawei’s expansion—not only into the Polish market itself, but also in the Eastern European and Nordic regions for which Huawei Polska serves as the company’s regional hub. Even more importantly, the allegations of espionage on the part of Huawei personnel will almost certainly provide further impetus to voices within the EU that wish to block Huawei’s growing presence in expanding European networks for 5G communications.

Huawei’s status as the world’s largest telecommunications firm, and its prominent role in developing 5G infrastructures throughout the world, would likely make the company an object of scrutiny under the best of circumstances. However, Huawei’s parallel role as a national champion of PRC international commercial expansion—as well as its deep and longstanding ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and the obligations of all major Chinese companies to support PRC state goals—naturally lead to concerns that the company may operate with more than simple profit motives in mind. The ultimate outcomes of the Polish case may prove very illuminating as to where the line is drawn between Huawei’s commercial activities and the interests of the Chinese state.

John Dotson is the editor of China Brief. Contact him at: cbeditor@jamestown.org.

Notes

[1] U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, “Investigative Report on the U.S. National Security Issues Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE,” October 8, 2012. https://intelligence.house.gov/sites/intelligence.house.gov/files/documents/huawei-zte%20investigative%20report%20(final).pdf.

[2] U.S. Congress, H.R.5515 – John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (signed into law August 13, 2018), Section 871: “Prohibition on Acquisition of Sensitive Materials from Non-Allied Foreign Nations.” https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/5515/text#toc-H8723BEF6929A4A7B9B0EBDE0C72BB11D.

[3] The Chinese government has responded angrily to the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, with a PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson asserting that the United States and Canada had “arbitrarily abused” their bilateral extradition agreement, and had seriously infringed on Ms. Meng’s legal rights (People’s Daily Online, January 23). The PRC Foreign Ministry further summoned the U.S. and Canadian ambassadors for a formal protest, and warned of “serious consequences” if Ms. Meng were not released (PRC Foreign Ministry, December 6 2018; BBC News, December 9 2018).

https://jamestown.org/program/arrests-in-poland-contribute-to-the-international-controversies-surrounding-huawei/

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Photo source in the original article by The Jamestown Foundation: Partially blurred images of the two men (“Weijing W.” and “Piotr D.”) arrested by Polish authorities on January 8th

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