History of Huawei illustrates historic distrust between U.S. and China
By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2010; 12:33 AM
SHENZHEN, CHINA - Late last year, as AT&T was preparing to buy hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment for its next-generation phone system, one of its senior executives received a call from the National Security Agency.
The subject was AT&T's desire to give a burgeoning Chinese telecommunications firm a contract to supply some of the equipment. The message from the NSA - the nation's electronic spying agency - was simple: If AT&T wanted to continue its lucrative business with the U.S. government, it had better select a supplier other than Huawei, said several people with knowledge of the call. In February, AT&T announced that it would buy the equipment it needed from Swedish-owned Ericsson and Paris-based Alcatel-Lucent.
The NSA called AT&T because of fears that China's intelligence agencies could insert digital trapdoors into Huawei's technology that would serve as secret listening posts in the U.S. communications network, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to maintain their relationship with the companies. Huawei, the NSA and AT&T declined to discuss the agency's intervention in the deal.
Huawei's experience illuminates the hole at the center of the United States' relations with China: the absence of strategic trust. Although President Obama has said the United States welcomes China's rise, significant parts of the U.S. government view China as a threat to national security.
The trust gap is a major obstacle for China and its companies as they seek to enter more sensitive parts of the global economy. But if the aborted AT&T deal was a setback for Huawei, the history of the company and its founder demonstrates a determination to prevail.
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| October 8, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
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