Tue, Jul 02, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Huawei staff worked with the Chinese military on research

Employees collaborated on AI and communications with the People’s Liberation Army, but Huawei says it did not authorize the research

By Edwin Chan and Gao Yuan  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Yusha

Several Huawei Technologies Co employees have collaborated on research projects with Chinese armed forces personnel, indicating closer ties to the country’s military than previously acknowledged by the smartphone and networking powerhouse.

Over the past decade, Huawei workers have teamed with members of various organs of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on at least 10 research endeavors spanning artificial intelligence (AI) to radio communications.

The projects include a joint effort with the investigative branch of the Chinese Central Military Commission — the armed forces’ supreme body — to extract and classify emotions in online video comments and an initiative with the elite National University of Defense Technology to explore ways of collecting and analyzing satellite images and geographical coordinates.

Those projects are just a few of the publicly disclosed studies that shed light on how staff at China’s largest technology company teamed with the PLA on research into an array of potential military and security applications.

Bloomberg culled the papers from published periodicals and online research databases used mainly by Chinese academics and industry specialists. The authors of the treatises, which have not been reported in the media previously, identified themselves as Huawei employees and the company name was prominently listed at the top of the papers.

“Huawei is not aware of its employees publishing research papers in their individual capacity,” said Glenn Schloss, a spokesman for Huawei in Shenzhen. “Huawei does not have any R&D [research and development] collaboration or partnerships with the PLA-affiliated institutions. Huawei only develops and produces communications products that conform to civil standards worldwide and does not customize R&D products for the military.”

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense did not respond to a faxed request for comment.

Huawei chief legal officer Song Liuping (宋柳平) on Thursday reaffirmed the spokesman’s comments.

“Huawei doesn’t customize products nor provide research for the military,” he told reporters in Shenzhen. “We are not aware of the papers some employees have published. We don’t have such joint-research projects [with the PLA].”

The Trump administration has imposed strict limits on Huawei’s ability to do business with US companies and urged allies to follow suit, saying that it poses a national security threat. Washington has zeroed in on what it says is Huawei’s close association with the armed forces in part because billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei (任正非) — a self-avowed Chinese Communist Party loyalist — was an officer who worked on communications during his military tenure.

It is unclear whether the studies that Bloomberg saw — dating back to 2006 and discovered during a search of an online database used in part by professors to root out plagiarism among college students — encompassed every instance of Huawei-employee collaboration with the PLA. Many sensitive projects are classified or just never make it online.

While researchers with both Huawei and the military published thousands of papers, according to that database, only the 10 that Bloomberg saw were joint efforts — and the company employs nearly 180,000 people.

Tech companies and military agencies have been collaborating around the world for decades, generating many of the technologies that underpin the modern Internet. In China, that public-private relationship is particularly close-knit because of Beijing’s sway in every sector of the economy, but Huawei consistently plays down suggestions that Ren’s background influences the corporation in any way and says that its relationship with the military is minimal and non-political.

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