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UK's Huawei VP insists staff 'free to express views' - but says he has no opinion on China's new Hong Kong security law

'We have a management team in the UK like any other UK organisation and we are free to express our view,' vice president of telecommunications giant says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 09 July 2020 11:31 BST
Huawei execs asked by committee whether they are 'free to express their views'

Huawei’s UK vice president has insisted employees at the company are free to express their views – before claiming he did not have a view on China’s imposition of a new draconian security law for Hong Kong.

It comes as Boris Johnson and senior ministers consider reversing a major decision in January to give the Chinese telecommunications giant the green light to help develop the UK’s mobile network, despite protests from the US and Tory MPs.

The prime minister is reportedly drawing up plans to strip Huawei’s access to the network after receiving a report from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the company’s suitability following the imposition of severe US sanctions.

Appearing at Westminster’s Science and Technology Committee, senior executives at Huawei were asked by chairman and former Conservative minister Greg Clark whether employees and directors at the company in the UK “free to express their views”.

In response, Jeremy Thompson, a vice president at Huawei UK, said: “Yes, very much so. We have a management team in the UK like any other UK organisation and we are free to express our view, yes.”

Pressed seconds later on his view of the new security law imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese government, curtailing the rights of protestors, Mr Thompson said: “I’m a telecoms executive, I’ve worked in telecoms all my life.

“My role is to enable our customers, who are the carriers, to provide communications faster and cheaper. I don’t have a view.”

Quizzed again, he added: “You’ve invited me here chairman as a representative of Huawei. I represent Huawei. Huawei does not get involved in judging the rules of different countries.”

Asked for his view on the new security law in Hong Kong, Victor Zhang, a vice president and chief representative at Huawei UK, said: “As Jeremy said, as a company – we are not in the position to comment on that political agenda. What we want to do is work with our customer for making sure the UK will have the best digital network.

“Yes, I can. But not at this hearing – I’m the vice president of Huawei and I could share my opinion probably offline with you.”

Grilled by the Labour MP Graham Stringer, who said the executives responses lacked “credibility”, Mr Thompson also suggested Huawei should “be judged on what Huawei does” and not how China behaves.

“Huawei operates in the UK as our competitors operate in the UK under UK law,” he added. “I’ve been in telecoms for over 25 years and worked for BT… and I’ve seen many different vendors and what I’ve seen in terms of the way Huawei behaves in the UK is consistent with UK law and what you’d expect from a company providing technology to the industry.”

Dr Yao Wenbing, vice president of business development and partnerships at Huawei UK, added there was “no evidence” to support claims the company building the 5G network will attract more cyber attacks. “That’s absolutely not possible,” she said.

Earlier this week Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, confirmed the government was assessing a report on Huawei’s suitability to build the UK’s 5G network from the NCSC and said US sanctions were likely to have “a significant impact on the reliability” of the company.

“I’ve just received that advice, I will be discussing that with the prime minister and if there’s any change of policy arising from it I will make an announcement,” he told LBC radio.

“I would certainly aim to do that before Parliament rises for the summer recess, so later this month.”

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