When asked what Huawei pays to be listed as a supporter and to be able to place its logo and information in the event booklet of the conference, Christian Dörr, head of the Cybersecurity department at HPI, told the Handelsblatt: consent of the contractual partner do not give any information. This applies to all partners of our conference.” The conference took place on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
Huawei has long been the focus of politics. The United States is of the opinion that China can use technology such as Huawei to conduct espionage by expanding the new 5G mobile communications standard. The company has always denied the allegations. Nevertheless, the federal government recently tightened the pace against the Chinese IT supplier for security reasons.
The Vice President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Sinan Selen, was also critical recently and explained: “I don’t have the impression that the crown jewels of our economy are protected well enough.”
HPI cyber expert Dörr said: “As a scientific institution, we are there to collect different information and opinions. Which conclusions are drawn from this must be decided in the political process.” As one of the largest telecommunications and IT providers in the world, Huawei is “a relevant player” and therefore a partner of the conference – and has been since 2019.
However, participants were “explicitly invited from a wide variety of areas in order to be able to discuss important aspects controversially,” emphasized Dörr. “We are expressly promoting the discussion of all security-related and critical cybersecurity issues.”
Secret services concerned about Huawei components in the German mobile network
In addition to Huawei, twelve other companies are listed as supporters in the event booklet, including the US network supplier Cisco, the Internet search engine Google, Microsoft, the software company SAP and Deutsche Telekom. Traditionally, the conference is attended by top-class speakers.
Leading representatives of all relevant German security authorities take part – including constitutional protection officer Selen. On the sidelines of the conference, with a view to Huawei, he was concerned that the company’s components were installed in the German mobile network and at Deutsche Bahn.
The Vice President of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), Wolfgang Wien, made a similar statement at the event. China offers “endless opportunities for economic growth on both sides,” said Vienna.
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However, Germany must face its “business partner” China with an open visor and know whether what it is doing is honest or whether it is state-controlled, Vienna warned. Caution should be exercised with companies that could be state-controlled and would have to “derive” information.
The German government is aware of the close connection between the Chinese technology companies Huawei and ZTE and the Chinese government. “Both companies are under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at various levels,” said a government response to a parliamentary question published at the end of March.
The government cites so-called party cells, i.e. organizational units of the CCP within companies, as one of these opportunities to exert influence.
Huawei and ZTE with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party
China’s Company Law Law entitles the party to “establish party cells to carry out party activities in companies,” according to the government’s response. “This gives the CCP the legal and actual ability to effectively ensure the achievement of political objectives by influencing management and corporate policies.” In fact, Chinese law requires Party cells for all companies in the People’s Republic where three or more Party members work.
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To the knowledge of the federal government, Huawei and ZTE also maintain such a CCP party arm. Both Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and chairman of the board Liang Hua are members of the party.
It is still unclear whether the Potsdam Cyber Security Conference will continue to work with Huawei as a partner in the future. “Every year we examine and discuss the composition of the partners and the course of the conference,” said Dörr.
It is “always important to offer all relevant players a neutral platform to conduct insightful and interesting discussions”. You always have an eye on the current security situation and current assessments of the situation by the security authorities.
The Green European politician Reinhard Bütikofer accused Dörr of being “double wound”. “It is an academic fairy tale that a scientific institution could absolve itself from engaging in political considerations when its own behavior obviously has political consequences,” he told the Handelsblatt. “In addition, Huawei is indeed a relevant player, but in the Chinese team, which acts according to a game plan of the totalitarian Beijing leadership.”
He therefore wonders whether the Hasso Plattner Institute is “still a matter of regrettable naivety or a conscious denial of reality”.
The CDU politician Roderich Kiesewetter called for Huawei to be excluded as a partner of the conference in the future. “Huawei is a key company that threatens Germany’s cyber security,” the vice-chairman of the Bundestag’s intelligence control committee told the Handelsblatt. “In this respect, it would be strategically wise to discontinue any cooperation in the future, just as the exclusion of Huawei from the digitization of the railways and from all critical infrastructure is now rightly required and required.”
Kiesewetter, who himself took part in the conference this week, also admitted that he “was not aware of the sponsorship by Huawei”. “Otherwise I would have discussed it or possibly canceled my participation in the conference,” he said.
More: Germany’s top cyber security authority uses Huawei technology itself.