As Huawei’s Canadian operations come under increasing scrutiny amid an international brouhaha, the Chinese firm’s Ottawa-based research partners are adopting a holding pattern until the political skies are cleared.
Canada stepped firmly in the middle of global trade tensions last weekend with the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. The U.S. has accused Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions and seeks to have her extradited to face charges south of the border.
Wanzhou’s bail hearing continued on the west coast Tuesday. Meanwhile, government officials confirmed that a former Canadian diplomat, Michael Kovrig, has been detained in China. It is not clear whether the matter is related to the Huawei arrest.
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Though best-known globally as the second-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, Huawei has also become known as an important equipment supplier in Canada’s telecom industry. The company has set up its Canadian R&D hub in Kanata, where the firm employs some 275 people today.
Huawei Canada has not responded to OBJ’s request for comment as to whether there has been any disruption at the company’s local operations in light of the current controversies.
Ottawa research partners watching closely
Huawei’s influence has extended beyond boots on the ground to include research agreements with Ottawa-based partners, often funded by the provincial and federal governments. In 2016, Huawei committed to invest $303 million to its Ontario operations, augmented by $16 million from the province’s Jobs and Prosperity Fund.
Universities and other organizations have also sought to benefit from Huawei’s deep R&D pockets. Roughly a year ago, a delegation of Ottawa-based organization accompanied then-premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne on a trip to Shenzhen to announce and renew partnerships with Huawei.
Among them was the Centre of Excellence for Next Generation Networks (CENGN), which announced last year that Huawei would join its consortium of government agencies, startups and multinational corporations collaborating on new 5G technologies and talent training programs. The centre counts Bell, Rogers, Telus, Mitel, Nokia and Invest Ottawa as members, among others.
Asked whether CENGN would reconsider Huawei’s involvement in R&D efforts, a spokesperson for the consortium – which receives funding from both the Ontario and federal governments – stressed it is an “independent body” designed to reflect Canada’s ICT ecosystem. CENGN says it will continue “to support Canadian innovators to commercialize, scale and create jobs, as well as train the highly skilled professionals Canada needs in this global digital economy.
“CENGN will continue to monitor the situation with Huawei,” the statement read.
In light of security and espionage concerns earlier in the year, whereby former Canadian security officials joined warnings from U.S. counterparts about integrating Huawei’s technology in the county’s 5G infrastructure, CENGN stood by the Chinese multinational.
“Huawei are not only an important employer and member of the technical ecosystem in Ontario, they are on the leading edge for 5G development. This 5G development will be important to Canada and Canadian growth in the new digital economy,” it said in March, adding that the organization “works diligently to ensure all of our members are treated with the appropriate level of security to protect our other members, our Canadian testbed, and the CENGN ecosystem.”
Security fears cropped up in a new context earlier this week when the Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service cautioned a group of Canada’s universities about research relationships with Huawei at a meeting in October.
During last year’s delegation visit, Ottawa’s Carleton University extended the research partnership with Huawei that it first established in 2010. These joint research projects, which have also received government funding, have exposed Carleton students to emerging 5G network technologies and provided Huawei with access to the university’s academics.
“While we’ve achieved far more than we could have imagined over the past seven years working in partnership with Huawei, we are also excited about the next-generation research that lies ahead,” said Carleton professor Halim Yanikomeroglu in a statement at the time.
A Carleton spokesperson echoed CENGN’s position that the university would monitor the ongoing situation.
“Like other academic institutions in Canada, Carleton has researchers working in collaboration with this company. We are seeking input from the federal and Ontario governments, which have co-sponsored these research projects,” read the statement to OBJ.
– With files from Canadian Press and Associated Press