US universities distancing themselves from Huawei

Global Business

As Chinese tech giant Huawei faces allegations of theft and fraud, some U.S. universities also find themselves in an awkward situation.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in August, both Chinese equipment and partnerships with Chinese tech companies are under scrutiny.

CGTN’s Mark Niu reports.

The NDAA bans recipients of federal funding from using telecom equipment, video recording services and networking components made by a number of Chinese companies, including Huawei and ZTE.

U.S. academic institutions are responding- like the University of San Diego, which told CGTN it had enacted a six-month moratorium on Chinese audio-video equipment providers on that list and that an extension of the freeze will be reviewed in February.

The University of California at Berkeley removed a Huawei video conferencing system.

 “We didn’t have to.  We elected to remove a piece of equipment,” Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor at UC Berkeley Communications said.  “To make sure, we always want to err on the side of caution. There was a directive having to do with certain sorts of hardware. We had hardware at an off campus location and decided to remove it.”

The NDAA also calls for creating regulations to limit research partnerships with Chinese companies.

And in June, members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos due to concerns about espionage related to Huawei’s research partnerships with over 50 US universities.

The White House has also cited Artificial Intelligence research at UC Berkeley involving Huawei as a potential security risk.  

Huawei and its U.S. subsidiary FutureWei have supported UC Berkeley research programs since 2012, providing $7.8 million in funding over the past two years.

But Mogulof emphasizes those are membership agreements where Huawei participates along with other members and has shared rights with those programs.

“They are not licensing exclusive intellectual property, they don’t have exclusive rights to anything,” said Mogulof. “They are simply if you will, can imagine sitting around the table with other corporations who are involved in these same areas who are interested in the work we do. But what’s really important to understand is that even if a particular company isn’t sitting around that table, they would still have access to the results of our research because it’s all going to be published.”

Berkeley is far from being alone. A Reuters report cites Stanford University as having undergone a “scrub” of its campus but finding no offending equipment.

Stanford also has research programs with Huawei involvement.

 “I think turning down research funding could retard the rate of research progress. There’s no question about that,” said Al Sykes, Stanford University Law Professor. “I know that the new changes in the foreign investment review process in the United States which are limiting the nature of Chinese investments…that’s a major concern in Silicon Valley that a lot of the venture funding that Silicon Valley relies on, especially for small companies, may be cut off by some of these rules. So there’s a real tradeoff here.”

Sykes said if US policies continue to grow more restrictive there could be another undesirable tradeoff — Chinese companies taking their research dollars to universities in other more welcoming countries.