Executives from China’s top makers of telecommunications gear denied putting hidden spy code into their equipment at a rare public hearing of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
The officials from Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and ZTE Corp, rejecting fears that their expansion in the US poses a security risk, said they operated independently of the Chinese government.
The US Congressional panel is wrapping up a nearly year-long investigation into whether the companies’ equipment provides an opportunity for foreign espionage.
“We have heard reports about backdoors or unexplained beaconing from the equipment sold by both companies,” committee chairman Mike Rogers said in his opening statement.
The committee’s report could be followed with proposed measures to exclude their products from the US market. The companies say they are frustrated by the obstacles such allegations pose to their US business.
“Huawei has not and will not jeopardize our global commercial success nor the integrity of our customers’ networks for any third party, government or otherwise,” senior vice president Charles Ding (丁少華) said in written testimony.
Huawei and ZTE are fighting an uphill battle for inroads into the US, stymied by mounting government concerns about economic espionage attributed to Beijing.
ZTE said US sales of infrastructure equipment in the US accounted for less than US$30 million in revenue last year, compared with a combined total of US$14 billion by two Western competitors.
China-based Huawei, which is owned by its employees, is the world’s second-biggest telecommunications gear maker after Sweden’s Sony Ericsson, while ZTE ranks fifth.
Ding and Zhu Jinyun, ZTE’s senior vice president for North America and Europe, under oath to the committee, denied putting any backdoor channels into their equipment.
Each further vowed that their companies never would bow to a hypothetical Chinese government request to exploit their products for espionage.
“What they have been calling backdoors are actually software bugs,” Zhu said.
Such glitches are not unlike those that require regular software patches from companies like Microsoft Corp, he said.
The committee aims to wrap up its investigation by the first or second week of next month, Rogers told reporters after the hearing.
“Candidly, we have gotten very poor responses” to written requests for documents put to the companies in June, Rogers told reporters.
He and the committee’s top Democrat, Congressman Albert Ruppersberger, have asked for details about the companies’ links to Chinese authorities, their inner workings and pricing strategies for US customers.
“When they don’t answer those, it just raises more suspicions,” said Rogers, a former FBI agent.
Both Huawei’s Ding and ZTE’s Zhu agreed at the hearing to send their lists of Chinese Communist Party committee members, something the intelligence panel said they had previously declined to do.
Ding complained that Huawei’s business efforts in the US had been hindered by “unsubstantiated, non-specific” security concerns.
On the eve of the hearing, Huawei published a paper on its US subsidiary’s Web site that alluded to the Red Scare charges made by former US senator Joseph McCarthy during the early 1950s.
“Good public relations,” Rogers said in response. “But it doesn’t speak to the facts of the investigation.”