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US lawmakers quiz ZTE, Huawei over spying concerns

Congressmen are members of U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee

Two U.S. lawmakers have asked executives at Chinese telecom companies ZTE and Huawei to explain their connection to the Chinese government out of concern that the companies' products represent a risk to U.S. national security.

Representatives Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, and C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat, asked for the companies' "interactions and relationships" with several Chinese government agencies, including the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of State Security, in letters to executives of the two companies sent Monday.

It's important for the lawmakers, both senior members of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, to understand the links between the two companies and the Chinese government, said Rogers, chairman of the committee. Huawei and ZTE have cooperated with a committee investigation, and the committee hopes to receive more information about the "influence of the Chinese government" in their businesses, he said in a statement released Wednesday.

"I remain concerned about the national security threat posed by the potential expansion of Huawei and ZTE into our telecommunications infrastructure," Rogers added. "We must get to the bottom of these issues before the companies have further access to our market."

In their letter to Hauwei executives, the lawmakers asked about the company's Communist Party Committee and what influence it has on business operations. The lawmakers also asked for a list of Hauwei's U.S. contracts, and for the amount of funding the Chinese government has provided to Hauwei for research and development.

Rogers and Ruppersberger also asked for details about the military career of Hauwei's founder, Ren Zhengfei.

In the ZTE letter, the lawmakers asked about a "favorable" US$15 billion loan to the company from the China Development Bank, and they asked if the Chinese government has ever ordered ZTE to provide it information. The two also ask about ZTE's statements to the committee in May that it has no knowledge of any cybersecurity incidents at the company.

"To your knowledge, has ZTE ever been the victim of a cyber incident whereby a non-ZTE employee or other company attempted to retrieve ZTE's intellectual property by maliciously exploiting ZTE's networks?" the letter asked

The lawmakers also asked about ZTE's relationship to Zhongxingxin, its largest shareholder and a company controlled by the Chinese government.

A ZTE representative said the company is committed to "remaining transparent, candid, and cooperative" throughout the U.S. inquiry.

Huawei didn't respond to a request for a comment.

Committee members have met with representatives both companies in Hong Kong this year. The committee appreciated the "candid" discussion and an opportunity for additional dialog, Ruppersberger said.

"As I told these companies directly, the security of our telecommunications infrastructure and networks is one of my biggest concerns," he said in statement. "While I appreciate the need for international competition, it is my responsibility to look critically at foreign companies, especially those whose government continues to conduct cyber espionage against U.S. enterprises."

(Michael Kan in Beijing contributed to this report.)

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