For years, the US government loudly warned the world that Chinese routers and other internet devices pose a “threat” because they are built with backdoor surveillance functionality that gives the Chinese government the ability to spy on anyone using them. Yet what the NSA‘s documents show is that Americans have been engaged in precisely the activity that the US accused the Chinese of doing.
The drumbeat of American accusations against Chinese internet device manufacturers was unrelenting. In 2012, for example, a report from the House Intelligence Committee, headed by Mike Rogers, claimed that Huawei and ZTE, the top two Chinese telecommunications equipment companies, “may be violating United States laws” and have “not followed United States legal obligations or international standards of business behaviour”. The committee recommended that “the United States should view with suspicion the continued penetration of the US telecommunications market by Chinese telecommunications companies”.
The Rogers committee voiced fears that the two companies were enabling Chinese state surveillance, although it acknowledged that it had obtained no actual evidence that the firms had implanted their routers and other systems with surveillance devices. Nonetheless, it cited the failure of those companies to cooperate and urged US firms to avoid purchasing their products: “Private-sector entities in the United States are strongly encouraged to consider the long-term security risks associated with doing business with either ZTE or Huawei for equipment or services. US network providers and systems developers are strongly encouraged to seek other vendors for their projects. Based on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems.”
The constant accusations became such a burden that Ren Zhengfei, the 69-year-old founder and CEO of Huawei, announced in November 2013 that the company was abandoning the US market. As Foreign Policy reported, Zhengfei told a French newspaper: “‘If Huawei gets in the middle of US-China relations,’ and causes problems, ‘it’s not worth it’.”