Huawei has denied any ties to the Chinese government, but many in Washington are sceptical

Brussels (AFP) - The European Union and its citizens should be “worried” about telecoms giant Huawei and other Chinese firms that cooperate with Beijing’s intelligence services, a senior EU official warned Friday.

Huawei quickly hit back at European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip’s warning, saying it was “surprised and disappointed” while rejecting any charges it posed a security threat.

The Chinese telecoms giant has been under the spotlight since Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of its founder, was arrested nearly a week ago in Canada at Washington’s request.

The White House did not specify why she was detained but mentioned longstanding US concerns over Chinese firms using stolen intellectual property and how Beijing acquires information technology.

“Do we (in Europe) have to be worried about Huawei or other Chinese companies?” Ansip asked during a press conference in Brussels.

“Yes, I think we have to be worried about those companies because they set new rules according with their IT companies, their producers,” Ansip said.

“They have to cooperate with their intelligence services. And this is about mandatory backdoors,” the former prime minister of Estonia added.

He said he has long opposed such backdoors where the firm may use chips to obtain secrets from customers, though he pointed out little was known about concrete cases.

“It’s not a good sign when companies have to open their systems for some kind of secret services,” said Ansip who is in charge of developing the EU’s digital single market.

“As normal ordinary people of course we have to be afraid.”

- Huawei denies ‘backdoors’ -

But the firm hit back quickly.

“Huawei is surprised and disappointed by the comments made about Huawei by European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip at today’s press conference on AI in Brussels,” the company said in a statement.

“We categorically reject any allegation that we might pose a security threat,” the company said, adding it was willing to talk to Ansip to clear up what it called misunderstandings.

“Huawei has never been asked by any government to build any backdoors or interrupt any networks, and we would never tolerate such behaviour by any of our staff,” it said.

The latest flare-up with Huawei comes after Meng’s arrest last Saturday, which experts say marks a tougher stance in Washington on dealing with Chinese tech firms, amid longstanding concerns over cyberespionage.

Recent US federal law already bans military and government use of devices made by Huawei and fellow Chinese firm ZTE over security concerns.

Federal regulators are also in the process of implementing rules that would bar Huawei for rolling out fifth-generation, or 5G, networks in the United States.

Huawei has denied any ties to the Chinese government, but many in Washington are sceptical.

Huawei is meanwhile facing bans for 5G contracts in Australia and New Zealand, and British telecom group BT revealed on Wednesday it was removing Huawei equipment from its core cellular network.