As the US and some of its allies get together to lock Huawei out of their telecommunications infrastructures, some cybersecurity experts in the West now openly question the rationale of singling out and penalizing the Chinese tech firm.

They say Huawei is “unlikely” to build so-called “back doors” into systems for fear of being exposed, especially considering that Beijing can already hack into foreign systems without any such help.

Washington is adamant that any nation deploying Huawei’s gear in its next-generation wireless networks is giving Beijing a ready-made conduit for espionage. Americans say the Shenzhen-based tech behemoth’s global stranglehold on 5G gear puts it at Beijing’s beck and call, and that the firm acts as Beijing’s surrogate.

US officials also cite a Chinese intelligence law that “compels their citizens and their companies to participate in intelligence activities.”

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is now on bail in Vancouver after she was detained during a transit stop at the city’s airport in December. Canada may extradite her to the US at the latter’s request for allegedly breaching US sanctions against Iran. Photo: Reuters

But security experts told The Associated Press that the US government was probably exaggerating that risk. The reality is that Beijing does not need malware implanted in or clandestine access to Huawei routers, switchboards or wireless base stations to infiltrate overseas networks, which already have “notoriously poor security,” making them easily exploited.

Jan-Peter Kleinhans, a researcher at the Berlin-based think-tank Neue Verantwortung Stiftung specializing in IT security and state surveillance, said that if the Chinese wanted to tap or eavesdrop global networks, “they will do so regardless of the type of equipment you are using,” and that Beijing’s army of state-sponsored, highly accomplished hackers had shown no preference for one manufacturer’s technology over another’s.

Moreover, Huawei would already have been caught and banished years ago had any such back doors installed on behalf of Chinese intelligence been discovered by overseas clients or government watchdogs.

Huawei has moved to countersue the US government for trumping up accusations without any proof of its alleged complicity.

Huawei can gain further market share in its home market with more discerning consumers who have become less enamored with foreign brands. Photo: Weibo
Huawei is being accused by the US of acting as Beijing’s surrogate by allowing the latter back-door access to its gear sold overseas. Photo: Weibo

European allies have been reluctant to embrace a blanket ban on Huawei equipment. For instance, Germany has signaled no intention to cut off Huawei’s business there in toto, with a reported prerequisite of a mutual no-spying deal with China. Poland and the Czech Republicboth members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), have also allowed Huawei to make inroads into their respective telecoms and end user markets.

AP also quoted Priscilla Moriuchi, the US National Security Agency’s former head of Far East operations, as saying that she was not aware of the NSA ever finding Huawei back doors created for Chinese intelligence.

Passengers watch a television screen broadcasting news about Edward Snowden on a train in Hong Kong, June 14, 2013. The former US spy contractor Edward Snowden created an international furore when he revealed US surveillance secrets to the media. Snowden was in Hong Kong when the first stories about the leaks were published. As Washington sought his extradition, Hong Kong allowed Snowden to leave in June for Moscow where he was given asylum. Supporters see him as a whistle-blower who boldly exposed government excess, but others consider him a traitor. Photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip
A 2013 file photo shows passengers watching a television screen broadcasting news about Edward Snowden on a train in Hong Kong. The former US spy contractor created an international furor when he revealed US surveillance secrets to the media. As Washington sought his extradition, Hong Kong allowed Snowden to leave for Moscow, where he was given asylum. Photo: Reuters

One irony is that the US has knowingly committed what it now accuses Huawei of doing.

According to classified documents laid bare in 2013 by defected NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong and was later granted asylum by Moscow, the US “planted surveillance beacons in network devices from companies like Cisco Systems and shipped them around the world.”

The shocking revelations by the whistle-blower led to a ban by Beijing on Cisco products.

Despite the United States’ coordinated blockade, Huawei said it had entered contracts with 30 carriers worldwide to test and trial 5G networks and wireless technologies.