By Latika Bourke
Sydney Morning Herald – 11 June 2019
London: There have been astonishing scenes at a Parliamentary hearing in Westminster, where a Huawei executive has been accused of being a "moral vacuum" after he said the company has no ethical stance on what governments it supplies. He also professed to have no view on whether the Chinese government is a repressive regime.
John Suffolk, Huawei's Vice-President and Global Cyber Security and Privacy Officer, appeared before the Commons Science and Technology Committee at Westminster on Monday. He faced hostile questions from MPs from parties from right across the political spectrum beginning with the chair of the committee Norman Lamb – a Liberal Democrat MP. Lamb asked about a report published by the Australian Policy and Strategic Institute, which highlighted tech's role in enabling China's surveillance, repression and persecution of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minority communities in Xinjiang province.
"Should we do business with a company that's complicit in human rights abuses?"
"I think you should do business with all companies that stick to the law,"
Suffolk said. Earlier, Suffolk said it was Huawei's job to work within the law of the 170 countries in which it operates, regardless of the sort of government that had set the laws.
"It is the government's role to set the law whether it is in the east or the west, it is our job as a supplier to work within that law, so it doesn't matter to us what is the name of the country – it is whether it is lawful,"
Conservative MP Julian Lewis confronted Suffolk, saying there was a difference between good laws and bad laws.
"There's a lot of law in China isn't there? Just like there was a lot of law in Nazi Germany. Some laws are good laws, some laws are bad laws, some countries are totalitarian, repressive one-party states, and that includes communist China doesn't it?"
"We don't make judgements whether laws are right or wrong, that's for others to make those judgements,"
Suffolk said. Asked by Lewis if he had a view on whether or not the Chinese one-party state is repressive of human rights, Suffolk said:
"I don't have a view on that."
A clearly incredulous Lewis responded:
"You're a moral vacuum,"
and then twice asked Suffolk if there was any repressive regime he would refuse to work with for as long as he was complying with the law of that country.
"I've not given it any thought."
"It's a remarkable position that you've stated,"
Lamb observed. Conservative MP Bill Grant asked Suffolk:
"Would you turn a blind eye if they had wicked and bad laws in these countries?"
"Once we understand the law, then we will operate within the law, we do not make judgments,"
Suffolk replied. When pushed by Labour's Darren Jones over whether the company had any ethics, Suffolk said the company's starting point was that
"the law defines the ethics as far as we're concerned, because in essence, it's for governments to define what is right and wrong".
"Companies are entities and can make decisions about whether they want to do business with certain customers."
The Science and Technology Committee is examining UK telecommunications infrastructure amid a row within the governing Conservative Party as to whether or not the Chinese company should be allowed to supply parts for Britain's 5G network. A preliminary decision taken in the National Security Council to approve Huawei involvement was leaked, leading to the sacking of then-defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who is now co-chairing Boris Johnson's leadership campaign. Williamson favoured Britain following Australia and the United States' lead in banning the company from the rollout, but denies divulging classified material.
Two of Johnson's backers, Williamson's predecessor Sir Michael Fallon and the prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, have both told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that the decision should now be made by the new Prime Minister, and not Theresa May, who on Friday stepped down as leader of the Conservative Party after losing the support of her MPs, primarily over her handling of Brexit. May will remain caretaker Prime Minister until the party chooses her replacement, expected in the week of July 22, and is planning a series of legacy announcements. However, one government source downplayed the likelihood of the Huawei decision being one of those.
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.
[NOTE: As Chairman of the Defence Committee, Julian was invited by the Science and Technology Committee to participate in this session.]