Does Huawei's Research Funding Pose a Threat?

June 29, 2018

The head of a Chinese telecommunications company has fired back after lawmakers sent a letter last week to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking her to investigate ties between the company and American universities on the grounds that research partnerships “may pose a significant threat to national security.”

The letter signed by 26 lawmakers -- including U.S. senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida who has emerged in recent months as a leading voice of concern about Chinese government influence over American academe, and Representative Jim Banks, a Republican of Indiana -- specifically raised concerns about the “Huawei Innovation Research Program,” which according to the letter provides funding to more than 50 U.S. universities for research in communication technologies, computer science, engineering and other related fields.

“Huawei is not a normal private sector company the way we have grown accustomed to thinking of the commercial economy in the West,” the letter states. “As the bipartisan report of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in 2012 recommended, '[b]ased on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and vii ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems.'”

The letter further cites a chart from the National Intelligence Council that “makes clear that research partnerships with U.S. universities are a primary mode of ‘China’s Toolkit for Foreign Technology Acquisition.’”

Huawei's media office did not respond to Inside Higher Ed’s request for comment, but Reuters on Thursday quoted the chairman of the company, Eric Xu, describing Rubio and Banks as “closed-minded and ill-informed.”

"Their behavior shows not just an ignorance of how science and innovation works today, but also their own lack of confidence,” Xu said.

CNN reported further remarks from Xu. “It often takes decades or even hundreds of years of effort in research and development to translate science or theories into something that is available in the market,” Xu said. He said as well, “Huawei does not have exclusive access to what comes out of these partnerships. We benefit, as everybody else does, from the general advancement of science and technology."

Rubio responded on Twitter. “In attacking me #Huawei exec said it ‘takes decades’ to turn research into something marketable. The problem is #China steals our decades of research! Also said ‘everybody’ benefits from research. Problem is #China blocks everyone else from their market!”

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