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UK praises Huawei partnerships, US senators cite “security threats”

UK Universities minister Sam Gyimah has praised ICT giant Huawei for its commitment to open collaboration with the country’s academic institutions. But US lawmakers have called for an investigation into Huawei’s university partnerships, claiming they are being used as a method for China to capture foreign technology.

Universities minister Sam Gyimah speaking at the Huawei Academic Salon. Photo: Huawei

Huawei plans to grow its investment in R&D and collaborations with UK universities over the next five years

Addressing a crowd of policymakers, academics and industry leaders at the Huawei Academic Salon on June 21, Gyimah described Huawei’s partnership with more than 20 top UK universities as a great example of how to prepare for future innovation.

“We need to be open to the world, and the UK has to be a place that is a magnet to top talent”

Huawei currently has three research and development sites in the UK, with plans for an expanded range of topics to research and more university partnerships over the next five years.

Gyimah said if the UK is to lead the world in innovation and technology, it is vital that not only research but the development is done in the UK, “producing the products and technologies of tomorrow”.

“We need to be open to the world, and the UK has to be a place that is a magnet to top talent.

“Whether it’s at the undergraduate level, postgraduate level or innovators… we need to be as open as possible to attract those people into the country.”

But how the UK works with other countries is also important, Gymiah continued.

“Collaboration is the name of the game. Whether it’s in India or China… every one of these countries… has huge areas where we can work together and learn from each other.

“One of my aims is to build those diverse relationships in the UK and abroad. Huawei’s long-term commitment to open collaboration with UK academic institutions is a great example of how we can bring together academic minds and businesses,” he added.

Held in partnership with Times Higher Education, the Academic Salon showcased Huawei’s flagship funding initiative ‘Huawei Innovation Research Program’, which provides backing for leading universities and institutes conducting research in communications technologies, computer science, engineering, and related fields.

The company currently invests 15% of its annual revenue in research and development, and has plans to invest around USD$16 billion in R&D annually in future, Huawei corporate senior VP and board director Chen Lifang confirmed.

Speaking at the event, Stephen Toope, vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge which established a research group with Huawei and BT in 2017 said universities must be open to talent from where ever it is found.

“Partnerships drive progress. Universities are a natural place for innovation, but it is through collaboration with technology partners, like Huawei, that we can best prepare our institutions for the future,” Toope added.

However, a recent investigation by The Globe & Mail into Huawei’s involvement with Canadian universities has prompted fresh concern stateside that similar academic partnerships are being used as a means for China to “scoop up” foreign technology.

The investigation revealed that since arriving in Canada, “Huawei Technologies has committed about $50-million to 13 leading Canadian universities” to create a steady pipeline of intellectual property to underpin its market position in 5G technology.

It found that “in at least 40 cases”, academics involved have assigned all intellectual property rights to the Huawei.

Since the investigation, 26 members of the US Congress have signed a letter sent to Education secretary Betsy DeVos, calling for an investigation into potential attempts by Huawei to steal research and technology from the country’s higher education institutions.

“China is using Huawei to position themselves to steal American research”

Led by Republican senator Marco Rubio and congressman Jim Banks, the letter asks the Department of Education to look into the Chinese tech company’s research partnerships with more than 50 US HEIs.

“Our intelligence community has warned about this exact type of national security threat for over a decade,” said Banks in a statement.

“Huawei is a state-directed entity that uses academic surveillance to spy and collect intelligence on America and our allies.

“Make no mistake, Huawei cannot be trusted and the Department of Education should work closely with the FBI to address China’s attempts to infiltrate America’s intellectual institutions.”

Rubio added: “China is using Huawei to position themselves to steal American research through so-called ‘research partnerships’ with American universities to exploit the openness of our system of higher education.”

At the time of publication, Huawei HQ had not responded to The PIE’s request for comment on the allegations.

However, Huawei in Canada has reportedly said that an investigation wasn’t necessary for Canada, and declined to comment on the US situation.

“As we have done for a decade, Huawei Canada works openly and transparently with the Canadian government, Canadian operators and other Canadian stakeholders, including Canadian universities,” Huawei vice-president Scott Bradley told The Globe & Mail.

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