Observers and cybersecurity analysts continue to question just how much of a threat Huawei is to Taiwan, even after the island singled out the Chinese telecommunications giant and disqualified it from government and military procurements on national-security grounds as early as 2013.
Wendell Minnick, a Taipei-based journalist and former Asia bureau chief of Defense News, said in an op-ed in the National Interest magazine that doing business with Huawei had been “kosher” among Taiwanese businesses and officials since 2005, when the Shenzhen-based company set up an office in Taipei via its Hong Kong subsidiary.
Taiwanese media reported back then that the office was subsequently shut down by the government in less than 10 months, yet Huawei returned to the spotlight in 2012 when its equipment was found in Taiwan’s core telecommunications networks.
It was a rare open admonishment from Taiwan’s national-security agency that led to the 2013 ban, which in effect expelled the Chinese tech behemoth from Taiwan’s business-to-government and business-to-business markets.
The island’s National Security Bureau blew the lid off the extent of Huawei’s penetration and called for immediate remedies after it found that aides serving then-president Ma Ying-jeou as well as agents with the Ministry of Justice’s Investigative Bureau had been using Huawei’s webcams and its network cards in their phones.
Minnick interviewed Kitsch Liao, a Taiwan-based cybersecurity specialist, who told him Taiwan’s national-security agency suspected Huawei of embedding back-door access in its servers and interface cards sold to the island.
“I believe that government agencies and contractors should establish strict rules regarding the use of personal devices made in China and that strict penalties should be in place for the unauthorized use of devices in handling government-related documents,” Liao said.
Now some observers fear that Huawei equipment still in use in Taiwan over the years may still compromise the confidentiality of the intelligence-sharing mechanism as well as the data collected from a key radar facility on the island.
For instance, the US military makes use of Taiwan’s early warning radar facility on Leshan Mountain in Hsinchu and Miaoli counties that commands views of the Taiwan Strait.
Huawei ‘trustworthy,’ says Beijing
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Presidential Office stressed on Monday that the administration would never use any equipment that might be a threat to national security. But questions have been raised about how the government would regulate Taiwanese telecom operators’ use of Huawei products.
The government said that in 2012 some telecom carriers were found to be using core network technology and devices provided by Huawei, adding that telecoms should work with the island’s National Communications Commission to dispose of such equipment still in use.
In Beijing, party mouthpieces including the People’s Daily and Global Times have been crying foul over other countries’ “phobia and hysterics” about Chinese products and technology.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also said on Monday that telecom companies in more than 20 countries – including Portugal, France, Germany, Qatar and South Korea – had signed commercial 5G (fifth-generation wireless) deals with Huawei.
“Many countries believe Huawei is trustworthy and a partner for cooperation,” Lu said.
Huawei revealed this year that it had entered more than 50 5G contracts with overseas partners, including pilot projects to install base stations in Doha, London and Seoul.