The arrest by Canadian officials earlier this month of the CFO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, left many wondering why this company, and its executives, are the subject of so much focus by the U.S. government. Few people outside China have knowledge about the origin of Huawei. Founded in 1987, Huawei now employs 170,000 people, among them 76,000 R&D staff. It is poised to be the No. 1 smartphone maker in 2019, surpassing Apple.
But there’s something else that makes Huawei so interesting to the U.S. — its origins.
The founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, the father of Meng Wanzhou, served for 14 years as an engineer in the Chinese military in the 1970s. He married the daughter of the powerful lieutenant-governor of Sichuan Province. The father-in-law helped Huawei to obtain government contracts worth millions. Later in 1992, Sun Yafang, a state security officer, joined Huawei and later became the chairman of its board. Sun’s appointment is said to have solidified the partnership between Huawei and the Chinese intelligence agencies.
U.S. intelligence agencies have long been aware of these connections. In February 2018, six top intelligence chiefs, including those of the CIA, FBI and NSA, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. They warned Americans of the danger of using Huawei products. This might help explain why, when the news of Meng’s arrest came out, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted: “Huawei is a Communist Party spy agency thinly veiled as a telecom company. Its surveillance networks span the globe & its clients are rogue regimes such as Iran, Syria, North Korea & Cuba.”
While the American public and government may now be realizing the danger Huawei poses, the Chinese people have been living in fear for some time. In the past few decades, Huawei, and other telecom and internet giants in China, greatly contributed in building the most powerful and profound police state in human history. In turn, these companies have been given monopolies in the vast Chinese market.
Huawei is a Communist Party spy agency thinly veiled as a telecom company.
Outside observers seldom noticed this new type of police state. When they visited China, they were usually absorbed by the magnificent cultural and historic sites, and the material pleasure provided by the modern technology. They rarely understood that they were closely monitored by the comprehensive state intelligence system from the moment they arrived.
In an interview with a reporter from Voice of America, the Chinese hotel tycoon Guo Wengui, whose property list included the luxurious Pangu Hotel in Beijing, said that state security agents occupied an entire floor of the Pangu, where many foreign dignitaries and business tycoons stayed. According to Guo, the Chinese secret police were watching and recording every move of these guests.
Later, the same reporter interviewed two more hotel owners, who verified Guo’s words. One of them owned a five-star hotel in a provincial capital. He said that the state security took the whole floor. Every single room was equipped with hidden video cameras, which streamed images and sound directly to computers in the offices of the secret police. All hotels were required to use a specific software to register guests. The registration is also directly linked to police computers. In the past few years, hotels have been told not to accept Tibetans, Uyghurs and members of a few other ethnic minorities.
The technological capacity of the state monitoring networks has risen rapidly in the past few years. In 2017, the Brookings Institution issued a research report on the innovation of new technology in surveillance. The report, titled Benefit and Best Practice of Safe City Innovation, revealed that 470,000 CCTV cameras were installed in the city of Beijing. However, that number does not include numerous cameras in hotels, schools, universities and private homes. The two model “safe” cities discussed in the report — Lijiang in Yunnan Province, China, and Nairobi in Kenya — were equipped by Huawei systems. (And Huawei funded the report, too.)
Companies like Huawei, ZTE and Hikvision are today using big data, facial recognition, GPS, mobile-pay, AI and other advanced technologies to operate a so-called “Sky Net” (tian wang) in China. No one, not the rich and powerful, not even the least consequential and the most obscured person, can escape the eyes of the Chinese police. Those who dare to question the government authority will be placed on blacklists, arrested, interrogated and tortured. They could lose their livelihoods, and be banned from buying air or train tickets.
From 1933 to 1945, the world first witnessed the destructiveness and cruelty of fascism, which combined the efficiency of modern technology and savage dictatorship. In 1949, after the Soviet Union occupied Eastern Europe, George Orwell published his dark vision of humanity’s future in 1984. Today, the Chinese Communist party is showing an immensely updated version.
The free world must be alarmed. Seriously alarmed.
By Sasha Gong
Sasha Gong is a China scholar, an independent journalist, and a published author. She was formerly the China branch director of Voice of America. She is currently based in Washington, D.C.