Huawei bosses have accused the US government of being “ignorant of technology” and belittling national security concerns with unsubstantiated claims the company is an arm of the Chinese state and its mobile network can be used to spy on western governments.
John Suffolk, Huawei’s chief security officer and the UK government’s former chief IT adviser, said US politicians had not produced any evidence to back up claims that Huawei’s forthcoming 5G mobile technology could be hacked by Chinese spies to eavesdrop on sensitive phone calls – or even kill targets by crashing driverless cars.
Suffolk, who was one of the highest-paid British civil servants before he left for Huawei in 2011, said America’s allegations were motivated by politics and “certainly not security” concerns.
“[America] can’t keep saying [Huawei] has got some dodgy technology. [Edward] Snowden revealed all kind of things going on with American technology,” he said. “No one has revealed anything that we do [is bad].
“They [the US] are belittling national security – national security is important and they shouldn’t belittle it. They should face up to the reality that technology is complicated and should work together to solve the problems that we can.”
Peter Zhou, the Huawei executive in charge of rolling out 5G, which could be up to 100 times faster than 4G, said American politicians and officials were “ignorant of technology” and he often had to “explain it to them like I do to my kids”.
Suffolk said he had realised he was never going to convince US politicians Huawei technology is not accessible to the Chinese state. “Whether it is because they genuinely believe Huawei are terrible people or China is a terrible country, [I] don’t know,” he said at an industry conference in Shenzhen on Tuesday.
“All we can do is say: ‘Guys, if you want to come and look, come and look. If you want to come and test, come and test. If you want to do verification, you are more than welcome to. We don’t believe there is much more we can do.”
The US government has banned Huawei from American mobile networks and is calling on all of its allies, including the UK, Europe and Australia, to avoid Huawei technology in the rollout of ultrafast 5G.
Last month, the UK raised serious concerns about Huawei software security but found no evidence of Chinese state influence. Huawei is not banned in the UK. Australia has banned the company from bidding for work on its 5G network.
Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, recently told western allies the US would stop sharing information with them if they used Huawei technology. The president of Chile this week cancelled a visit to Huawei’s headquarters on Pompeo’s advice.
Suffolk said: “China is just another country: it has a different value system, a different political system, but they’re just people like you or I. What is the real fear? Is it because it’s China or because the technology is better [than America’s]?
“The reality is we’re a Chinese company, our founder is Chinese – that’s not his fault,” Suffolk said. “We’re very proud to be a Chinese company, but being a Chinese company means that in some quarters the spotlight will always be on you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“America says it wants open competition but then says: ‘Huawei, you can’t work in America – you’re banned.’ My belief is America should face up to competition, it should face up to competition because American citizens will benefit.”
Suffolk said that to claim the ban was based on legitimate security concerns was absurd. “I’m waiting for Mike to come back and say we’ve banned the trouser belt from being made in China because it’s a national security risk and armies can’t fight with trousers round their ankles.”
● Huawei paid for the Guardian journalist’s flights to attend the Shenzen conference