Huawei secretly built North Korean wireless network: report

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Huawei's deputy chairman Ken Hu and president of its 5G product line Yang Chaobin spoke at MWC Shanghai on June 26, 2019. (Image credit: TechNode/Eugene Tang)
Huawei’s deputy chairman Ken Hu and president of its 5G product line Yang Chaobin spoke at MWC Shanghai on June 26, 2019. (Image credit: TechNode/Eugene Tang)

Huawei secretly helped North Korea build and maintain a commercial wireless network, according to a Washington Post report citing a former employee and internal documents. The Chinese telecoms giant responded in a statement that it “has no business presence” in the country.

Why it matters: If true, its actions would violate US sanctions on North Korea as Huawei uses the country’s technology in its components. The claim could again land Huawei in hot water with US authorities, which threaten to cut off its supply of American products.

“Huawei is fully committed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate, including all export control and sanction laws and regulations” of the United Nations, United States and European Union.

— Huawei statement to the Washington Post

Details: Huawei allegedly hid its involvement by partnering with a state-owned firm Panda International Information Technology and they cooperated on multiple projects over a period of at least eight years, according to documents uploaded to Github by the Washington Post.

  • The two companies reportedly provided North Korea with base stations, antennas, and other equipment needed for communications networks.  Huawei was involved in “network integration,” “software services,” and an “expansion” project for North Korean telecoms provider Koryolink.
  • Huawei spokesperson Joe Kelly declined to comment in detail about whether the company had ever connected with North Korea in the past, either directly or indirectly. He also did not verify the authenticity of the documents while a Panda spokesperson declined to comment.
  • Huawei used the code name A9 when referring to North Korea and also had other code names for Iran and Syria, according to multiple sources.

Context: The US imposed sanctions on North Korea more than a decade ago over its military developments and threatened to punish companies, banks, and individuals that conduct business with Pyongyang in 2017.

  • The US Justice Department charged Huawei with violations of sanctions on Iran in January and it has pleaded not guilty.
  • Huawei was added to the US Entity List earlier this year barring them from buying parts and components from US companies without the government’s prior approval.
  • Although the ban has been temporarily suspended and President Trump has expressed a willingness to use the Huawei case in his efforts to secure a trade deal, the suspension is still set to expire on August 19.
  • The US previously banned Panda from buying US parts in 2014, saying it had connections with the Chinese military “and/or” to countries under sanctions.