In a rather amusing turn of events on Thursday, top executives from Huawei’s British operation were caught in the lie that they and their employees can practice their rights to free expression.
Clarity arrived during questions to the executives from British parliamentarian, Greg Hands. A Conservative Member of Parliament, Hands chairs the House of Commons Science and Technology committee. His questioning reflected growing concern over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to allow Huawei to build out certain areas of Britain’s 5G network.
First, some context.
Fortunately, thanks to a COVID-Hong Kong driven reassessment of China’s broader threat to the democratic international order, Johnson is reconsidering his policy and preparing to restrict Huawei’s access. In that vein, Conservatives such as Hands and Iain Duncan Smith (who, this week, rightly compared communist China to the Nazis) are putting Huawei executives under the spotlight. This, understandably, has Huawei and its Chinese communist spymasters concerned.
They had intended to use Huawei to establish an unprecedented signal intelligence collection program. Using devious technical means centered around deliberately design-flawed software, which Huawei could later blame for the spying, Beijing intended to use its 5G access to steal the content and data of British phone, internet, and interactive device (think Amazon’s Alexa system) communications. Beijing knows that once Huawei has built out the 5G network, Britain would find it incredibly complicated — impossible, really — to remove its access.
In turn, Huawei’s extensive British public relations campaign has centered on disavowing links to the Chinese government. Huawei would never use its capabilities to spy on Britain even if explicitly ordered to do so, the executives lie. The executives’ basic narrative is that Huawei is just another company on British soil, offering both consumer and employment opportunities in a way similar to other companies.
But with the skill of a top litigator and true British panache, Hands has caught Huawei in a web of its own lies. He noted that Huawei’s U.K. Vice President Jeremy Thompson had said Huawei treats its employees as any other British firm would. Hands then asked, “Are employees and directors of Huawei in the U.K. free to express their views?”
Thompson responded quickly. “Yes, very much so. We have a management team in the U.K. like any other U.K. organization, and we are free to express our views, yes.”
The parliamentarian was ready. “So what’s your view of the new security law in Hong Kong?” he asked, referring to the Beijing-imposed law that shreds China’s treaty obligations under the Sino-British declaration and enshrines tyranny in Hong Kong.
Thompson was completely unprepared for this. He paused, laughed nervously, and mumbled. “OK, I’m a telecoms executive … my role is to … provide communications faster and cheaper … I don’t have a view.”
Hands: “So you don’t have a view, as a person you said you’re free, as you just said, to express your views as any citizen in the U.K. would, but you don’t have any view on something that’s quite germane to your commercial and international prospects, I would have thought? You have no view?”
Thompson: “You’ve invited me here, Mr. Chairman, as a representative of Huawei … Huawei does not get involved in judging the rules of different countries.”
Hands doubled down, pointing out that Thompson had said Huawei was just another company on British soil. Why then would Thompson not be willing to express a view on Hong Kong? Is it because “you don’t have one? Or you don’t think it would be consistent with your role at Huawei to make a statement?”
Thompson said he didn’t think it would be consistent.
Hands moved onto Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang. The response was similar. “We are not in a position to comment on that political agenda …” Hands asked if Zhang was able to comment on Hong Kong as a private citizen. “Yes, I can,” Zhang said, but only offline. Kind of defeats the whole idea of free speech if you can only say something in private, right?
Next up, the final executive. Response: “I don’t think my personal view is of interest here, to this public hearing.”
Hands tried not to laugh and observed that the view would be very much of interest to the British people. Watch the exchange below, courtesy of the Spectator, and consider carefully what it tells us about the global vision China proffers for the world.
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