Huawei fought the lawmakers (and the law won)

5 Jan 2012

Six US lawmakers have urged the State Department to investigate whether or not China’s Huawei Technologies has violated local laws by supplying sensitive technology to Iran, Bloomberg reports. Previously, on 9 December the Chinese equipment vendor confirmed that it would voluntarily restrict business in Iran because of the Middle Eastern nation’s ‘increasingly complex situation’, adding that it would not seek out new customers in Iran and intended to limit the scope of business with existing clients. While conceding that Huawei’s measure was ‘a positive step’, the lawmakers contacted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 22 December questioning whether the company’s ‘previous actions and continuing service of existing contracts with Iranian clients may violate’ the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, which was passed in 2010. The law, prohibits the US government from ‘entering into or renewing a contract with a company that exports sensitive telecommunications technology to Iran’. The letter to Clinton has now been released by the office of Sue Myrick, a North Carolina Republican Representative, one of the six lawmakers in question.

The controversy surrounding Huawei’s alleged breach of US security protocols is the latest in a succession of flashpoints between US politicians and the Chinese vendor. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in October 2011 Huawei called on the US Department of Commerce to explain why the company was excluded from participation in the construction of a national wireless network for emergency responders. The firm was reportedly barred due to ‘US government national security concerns’, and William Plummer, a Washington-based spokesman for Huawei, told Bloomberg: ‘Notwithstanding that it is an ill-founded, ungrounded determination, it could have a chilling effect on our greater US business activities and accountability needs to be defined appropriately. No one has ever factually demonstrated otherwise, and playing Huawei as a pawn in some geopolitical game of chess is doing nothing more than threatening US jobs, investment, competition and innovation’.

The following month Huawei was forced to admit that it had sold telecoms equipment to Iranian cellular giant MTN Irancell, but refuted press claims that it was being used for the censorship and repression of dissidents. Plummer stressed: ‘Huawei’s business in Iran was limited to providing commercial-grade telecommunications equipment to commercial operators built to global standards in strict compliance with all international laws and regulations, as well as US and other sanctions regimes’. TeleGeography notes that Finnish vendor Nokia Siemens Networks – which delivered communications intercept equipment to Iran in 2008 – later expressed its regret over the sale, noting ‘credible reports’ that the government had used communications technology to suppress dissidents.

China, Iran, United States, Huawei Technologies, MTN Irancell