US Huawei-threat report not entirely convincing
Given how the US House of Representatives’ Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has come out against the security threat posed by Chinese telecom equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE, Indian policymakers need to take a serious look at its report. After concluding both firms are capable of supplying equipment that can be used to cripple/spy on vital US installations, the Committee recommends the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States “must block acquisitions, takeovers, or mergers involving Huawei and ZTE.” The basic argument made, and one made in India as well, is that both firms can keep ‘trapdoors’ in their equipment that later allow Chinese authorities to get into networks the host countries think are secure.
Since the report has a classified section, it’s difficult to assess the actual level of threat, but the unclassified portion is hardly convincing. It has huge sections on whether the two firms are related to the Chinese government, on whether they get subsidies or respect intellectual property—but what does it have to do with the ability to design undetected trapdoors? On that, we have: “But the expertise of the Committee does not lend itself to comprehensive reviews of particular pieces of equipment.” Obviously the Indian government would do well to try and read the classified portions. But it’s equally important not to get knee-jerk—apart from the dramatic cost reduction thanks to Chinese suppliers, it’s important to keep in mind that official government communications are through networks provided/maintained by PSUs. But a threat should never be taken lightly, and that means India needs to upgrade its capability to detect/deactivate threats, perhaps even doing what others like the UK have done—get third-party experts in to help debug Chinese and other equipment. Blanket bans may be popular, but they also impose large costs and few benefits.