Huawei says it doesn't cooperate with Chinese military — after report says its employees did

A news report said Huawei’s workers had cooperated with various parts of China’s People’s Liberation Army on research including on artificial intelligence and radio communications.
Image: A man tries out a remote control machine with 5G technology at a Huawei stand during the Mobile World Congress introducing next-generation technology at the Shanghai New International Expo Center
A man tries out a remote control machine with 5G technology at a Huawei stand during the Mobile World Congress introducing next-generation technology at the Shanghai New International Expo Center in Shanghai on June 26, 2019.Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images

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/ Source: CNBC.com
By Arjun Kharpal, CNBC

Huawei does not have any company-sanctioned projects cooperating with China’s military and does not customize products for use by the country’s armed forces, the tech giant’s legal chief told CNBC on Thursday.

That comes after Bloomberg reported earlier in the day that, based on public documents, Huawei’s workers had cooperated with various parts of China’s People’s Liberation Army on research including on artificial intelligence and radio communications.

But the company exec denied there’d been any official work with the PLA.

“As far as I know, we don’t have military cooperation projects because we are a company dedicated to provide communications systems and (information and communications technology) solutions for civil use,” Song Liuping, chief legal officer at Huawei, told CNBC in a Thursday interview conducted in Mandarin and translated by a company-provided translator.

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“My understanding is we don’t have any projects that relate to the military cooperation category. Neither do we customize products or solutions for the military,” he added.

Bloomberg’s report outlined at least 10 initiatives on which Huawei employees allegedly worked with the Chinese military, including one to extract and classify emotions in online video comments.

Bloomberg’s report outlined at least 10 initiatives in the last decade on which Huawei employees allegedly worked with Chinese military units. Those included one to extract and classify emotions in online video comments, according to the report. The information was gathered by looking at publicly available research papers whose authors were identified as Huawei employees, the report said.

A spokesperson for Huawei told CNBC the company is “not aware of its employees publishing research papers in their individual capacity.”

Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei was a former officer in the PLA. Huawei’s critics have pointed to that fact to suggest the company has a close relationship with China’s military and government.

The U.S. government is worried that Huawei’s equipment could present a risk of China accessing user data. Washington has also warned of laws in China that apparently compel Chinese companies to help Beijing with any national intelligence work if asked.

Ren told CNBC earlier this year that the company would resist any request from Beijing for user data.

“Even if we were ordered to, Huawei would still not install back doors. If a single back door was found in even one of the countries where we operate, our sales would shrink in all of them,” Ren said.