Monday, December 10, 2018

Canadian Intelligence Agency "Warning Country's Top Universities" About Chinese Telecom Giant Huawei

          By Chuck Black

The full story is hidden behind a legacy media paywall, available only if you're willing to buy a newspaper or sign-up for a subscription.

University of Toronto (UofT) VP of Research and Innovation Professor Vivek Goel and Huawei’s Central Research Institute President Jun Zha celebrate the signing of a "bilateral strategic partnership agreement between the two groups," in Toronto ON in September 2018. As outlined in the September 14th, 2018 UofT News post, "UofT, Huawei extend research partnership," the new, five-year agreement, is an extension of an existing partnership which has provided more than $3.5Mln CDN in research funding to UofT projects over the last few years. Photo c/o UofT

But it's a story with far reaching implications for academic cooperation between Canadian universities, their international partners/funders and pretty much anyone the United States might happen to disagree with.

It's therefore a story well worth looking into.

As outlined in the December 10th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "CSIS cautions universities about ties to Chinese telecom giant," Canada's spy agency is "warning the country's top universities to be cautious" about their extensive relationships with Shenzhen China based Huawei Technologies.

As outlined in the post:
The Globe and Mail has learned officials with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) including assistant director of intelligence Mike Peirce, delivered the warning to research vice-presidents, from a group of leading research-intensive universities, known as the U15, at a meeting in Ottawa on October 4th.
At least one follow-up meeting is planned for about twenty McGill University academics on December 19th. According to the Globe, several of those academics are currently engaged in research underwritten by Huawei.

According to its website, the U15 is a consortium of the largest Canadian universities. They perform approximately "$8.5Bln worth of research annually" including approximately "83% of all contracted private sector research in Canada" and hold 81% of all "Canadian university patents." Their website is also available in multiple languages, including English, French, Portuguese and written Chinese.

There is no better way to learn about Chinese connections to Canadian academia than to read "Canadian Universities in China’s Transformation: An Untold Story" by Ruth Hayhoe, Julia Pan and Qiang Zha. As outlined in the book, "Canada was one of the first Western countries to sign an agreement to provide development aid to China in 1983, and the Canadian International Development Agency invited universities to cooperate in ways that would facilitate "the multiplication of contacts at the thinking level." Collaboration occured in areas "as different as environmental science, marine science, engineering, management, law, agriculture, medicine, education, minority cultures, and women’s studies." While Norman Bethune might be pleased, its also quite likely that the US intelligence community was less than happy. Graphic c/o McGill Queens University Press

The Globe post goes on to state:
People who attended the October meeting described it as an information session where CSIS officials did not reveal classified information, but shared their concerns about Huawei's development and deployment of next-generation wireless technology across Canada. 
The story came hot on the heels of last week's detainment of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou as she was changing planes at Vancouver International Airport.

As outlined in the December 10th, 2018 CBC News post, "Flight would be 'inconceivable,' lawyer for Huawei CFO argues at bail hearing," Meng (who is also the daughter of Huawei's founder, Ren Zhengfei) was arrested in Vancouver on December 1st, 2018 on suspicion of fraud involving violations of US sanctions against Iran.

American prosecutors are currently fighting for her extradition to the US from Canada, although the real concerns of the Americans almost certainly go much deeper.

After all, Meng is a Chinese citizen working for a Chinese multinational who was travelling through Canada which is, officially at least, outside of US jurisdiction and thousands of miles away from Iran.

It's generally conceded that the telecom technology championed by companies like Huawei is essentially "dual use" technology, with a variety of both commercial and security related applications. Canada has an extradition treaty with the US covering these sorts of violations of US law.

The US almost certainly wants to keep control of the security applications and is absolutely intent on limiting Huawei's reach among traditional US allies. The decision to invoke treaty obligations was likely the obvious choice to enforce US law and to send a message to US allies to keep their distance from technologies controlled by China.

But for Canada, the situation is far more problematic and could lead to long-term consequences well outside of the telecom industry.

As outlined the April 6th, 2018 CBC News post, "Chinese ambassador calls for Canada's cooperation in US trade fight," Canada has been attempting a precarious neutrality in the middle between China and the US almost since the day US president Donald Trump assumed power in January 2017.

For it's part, Canada's aerospace industry has been looking to expand into China for years.

There's even a Canadian based space company which is betting on its strong Chinese connection. As outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 UofT News post, "Liftoff! U of T startup's business takes flight with satellite launch in China," Toronto ON based Kepler Communications used a Chinese booster to launch and deploy its first nano-sat on January 19th, 2018. The article noted that:
The launch – touted as a first for a commercial communications satellite operating in low earth orbit on a frequency known as the Ku-band – is an important first step toward Kepler’s goal of providing low-cost data communications for connected devices on Earth and beyond.
As outlined in the November 22nd, 2018 Yahoo Finance post, "Small in space: Toronto company's satellites no bigger than a loaf of bread," Kepler is expecting to launch its second nano-sat over the next few months and a total of 140 nano-sats over the next few years, although it won't say where those launches will take place.

Since nano-sats are also traditionally considered to be "dual use" services with both commercial and security applications, here's hoping that Kepler's future prosperity isn't restricted by US concern over its Chinese connections.

As noted in the December 10th, 2018 CBC News post, "China's threats over Huawei CFO's arrest rattle Canadian business," the options for payback (on all sides) are essentially limitless.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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