New Delhi: Chinese tech giant Huawei may be facing bans in the US, Japan, Australia and Taiwan but India doesn’t seem to have a problem working with the company suspected of spying for Beijing.
So much so that Huawei will be a sponsor and participant at two 5G industry events organised by an Indian industry body Monday and Tuesday.
While Huawei India CEO Jay Chen will be present at the 3 June Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) event, the company is a sponsor for the programme scheduled the next day.
The events will be attended by Department of Telecommunications (DoT) secretary Aruna Sundararajan, but this is in no way a “damage-control” PR exercise for Huawei, said a source in the telecom industry body.
COAI director general Rajan Mathews told ThePrint that the events were part of an exercise meant to promote discussions on 5G.
One of the world’s biggest telecom players, Huawei has been among the torchbearers of 5G, super-fast wireless connectivity that is expected to revolutionise technology by facilitating such sci-fi-esque innovations as remote surgery and the ‘Internet of Things’.
However, its Chinese roots have brought it under the lens in several countries over fears that Beijing may tap Huawei equipment to spy on other nations.
While several countries have consequently sought to restrict the involvement of Huawei in their 5G networks, India does not appear to have any plans to stop business with the world’s largest telecom equipment maker.
The COAI has stood by its associate member Huawei against all Chinese espionage allegations.
Following the Huawei chief financial officer’s arrest in December 2018, Mathews had told ThePrint, “We acknowledge and appreciate Huawei being one of the major companies at the forefront of 5G innovation… but… most importantly… they are fully compliant with all government requirements.”
India had its own scare with Huawei equipment in 2014, when New Delhi began investigating the company over a hack in the BSNL network. The results of the investigation are not known.
“It’s difficult to verify accuracy of these stories,” S.D. Saxena, former director of finance at BSNL, told ThePrint.
Spying or not, experts say the bottomline is that Indians need technology to grow and Chinese companies like Huawei are willing to lend at unbeatable terms to a debt-ridden telecom sector.
“I see young people with not very advanced education using YouTube videos to learn how to code, how to make their phone into a TV remote control and so many innovative applications,” said Saxena, “All this is possible because of affordable internet.”
“Almost all the Indian telcos are using some Chinese equipment already,” Saxena added.
Even if your phone is not that of a Chinese brand, the components could still be from China.
“Around 2007 or 2008, BSNL bought equipment from a European company only to find some of their components are sourced from China,” said Saxena.
Then there are the irresistible prices Huawei offers.
“The Chinese are master negotiators…When a company offers equipment at the cheapest possible price and gives you about 15 years to pay off the bills, it’s hard to say no, and by the time you realise it, you’re deep in debt and it’s too late to back out of the ties,” Vimal Wakhlu, former chairman and managing director of government-owned Telecommunications Consultants India Limited, told ThePrint in December 2018.
However, telecom experts like Saxena feel India should tread cautiously where national security is concerned. “Of course, India should safeguard against spyware in network equipment. Perhaps we should set up a secret lab to test all the equipment. Our PM is very conscious about security, so maybe we already have such a secret lab.”
Saxena also advised a cautious hand while balancing the complex international relations arising from doing business with a Chinese company like Huawei that is accused of violating US sanctions on Iran.