Huawei’s cybersecurity chief was accused of being a “moral vacuum” during a UK parliamentary hearing, in which he was repeatedly questioned about the Chinese company’s ethical stance on doing business with governments that violate human rights.
The executive also said he had no views about whether the Chinese communist regime was repressive of human rights.
John Suffolk, a Huawei vice president as well as the company’s global cybersecurity and privacy officer, appeared June 10 at a Science and Technology Select Committee hearing in London, where he faced probing questions by lawmakers from across the political spectrum.
Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat member of Parliament (MP) and chairman of the committee, began by asking about an April report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that outlined the telecom giant’s role in facilitating the mass surveillance and repression of millions of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The report said Huawei supplies and assists Xinjiang’s police apparatus.
“Huawei is providing Xinjiang’s police with technical expertise, support, and digital services to ensure ‘Xinjiang’s social stability and long-term security’,” the report stated, citing media reports.
“I don’t think it’s for us to make such judgments,” Suffolk said. “Our judgment is, is it legal within the countries within which we operate? That’s our criteria. It’s for others to make judgments on whether it’s right or wrong, predominantly the government.”
“There’s a lot of law in China isn’t there? Just like there was a lot of law in Nazi Germany. Some laws are good laws, some laws are bad laws, some countries are totalitarian, repressive one-party states, and that includes communist China, doesn’t it?” Lewis asked.
Earlier, Suffolk had said the company would “always condemn human rights abuses in any country in which it occurs.”
When asked by Lewis about whether he had an opinion on whether the one-party state in China is repressive of human rights, Suffolk responded, “I don’t have a view on that.” When again pressed by Lewis to respond, he then reiterated, “I don’t have a personal view on that.”
“You’re a moral vacuum?” Lewis said, then asked Suffolk twice if there was any repressive government the company wouldn’t do business with, as long as it was observing the laws in the country.
“I’ve never given that any thought,” Suffolk said. “I couldn’t answer that.”
“It’s a remarkable position that you’ve stated,” Lamb interjected.
Conservative MP Bill Grant later asked Suffolk, “Would you turn a blind eye if they had wicked or bad laws in these countries?”
“Once we understand the law, then we will operate within the law; we do not make judgments,” Suffolk responded.
Labor MP Darren Jones asked Suffolk whether he agreed with the proposition that there is a difference between law and ethics. When Suffolk agreed, Jones then asked, “Does Huawei have any ethics in terms of who it supplies … to?”
“Our starting point always, in essence, is, the law defines the ethics as far as we’re concerned. Because, in essence, it’s for governments to define what is right and wrong,” Suffolk replied.
Jones noted that companies are entities, and “can make decisions about whether they want to do business with certain customers.”
Suffolk’s appearance before the parliamentary committee comes as the government is due to decide on whether to allow Huawei equipment in the UK’s 5G network rollout.
A preliminary decision by Britain’s National Security Council, chaired by outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, in which the council agreed to allow the company to supply non-core parts of the network, but bar it from all core parts, was leaked to the media in April.
The United States and Australia have urged the UK to completely ban Huawei from its 5G roll-out, due to concerns that the company’s equipment could be used by Beijing for spying and disrupting communication networks, arising from the company’s close links with the Chinese Communist Party.
The U.S. administration has warned that it may have to limit information-sharing with Britain if it were to allow Huawei into its 5G networks.
May will serve as prime minister until the Conservative Party chooses a new leader, which is expected to occur during the week of July 22.
Conservative MPs and former officials have since urged May to reconsider allowing Huawei to build parts of the 5G network, saying the final decision should be left to her successor.