Study of Chinese CVs points at “deep and lasting relationship” between Huawei employees and the state

Photo: Paranoideas, Pixabay / CC0

In July, a paper was published by Dr. Christopher Balding from the Fulbright University in Vietnam, which looked into the link between Huawei Technologies' employees and the Chinese intelligence and military establishment by analysing a unique dataset of CVs from unsecured Chinese databases and websites run by recruitment platforms leaked last year. In an interview with Czech Radio published on Wednesday, he said that Huawei employees appear to act on behalf of the Chinese interior ministry and army in their work for Huawei.

Photo: laboratorio linux,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Together with the London based think-Tank Henry Jackson Society, the author analysed some 25,000 CVs out of hundreds of millions that are available.

While he acknowledges that the analysis is not a comprehensive study, he explained the early release by highlighting the importance of the Huawei security question in current policy decisions.

The paper, titled “Huawei Technologies’ Links to Chinese State Security Services” offers three specific examples of individuals who worked within the Chinese army before they took up positions in Huawei.

Dr. Balding said that Huawei acts as an agent of intelligence and security services of China and provided examples of Chinese employees talking openly of dual purpose roles in their CVs.

“For instance, one employee talked openly of having a joint position at a PLA [Chinese Army] research unit in intelligence gathering type of work under the Strategic Support Force, which is the electronic warfare division of the PLA, while at the same time working for Huawei.

“Another employee referred to themselves as a Ministry of State Security representative within a Huawei business unit. This speaks of a very much institutionalised type of relationship between the Chinese state, security and intelligence gathering services and Huawei.”

Czech Radio asked Huawei to comment on Dr. Balding’s statements. The Czech branch’s spokesman Pavel Košek gave the following statement.

“None of the so-called CVs that Dr. Balding quotes is verified and neither do we believe that the three examples of the apparently 25,000 gathered CVs are real. Huawei would never supply internal documents to a third party. The conclusions of the paper are very unprecise and speculative.

Christopher Balding,  photo: archive of Fulbright University in Vietnam
“Huawei has very strict rules when it comes to employing candidates with experience from the army or state branches. During the hiring process, the candidates, among other things, have to prove that they have ended their professional relationship with the army or government.”

Dr. Balding says that the study specifically excluded employees that had served in the PLA but their activities did not indicate that they were working further on behalf of security or intelligence gathering services.

The academic further warns that, unlike in most democratic states where there are strict privacy controls, for Chinese companies there are no limitations in regards to what the state can demand.

“For example, the Chinese national security law which was passed in 2017 specifically states that Chinese companies, when asked, are required to assist in intelligence gathering efforts, so Huawei has no choice when the Chinese government asks for a specific piece of information.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the data was gathered from Chinese job sites, Dr. Balding says he has not yet seen the CVs of any foreign employees within the Chinese data set. However, he does say that Chinese employees spoke openly about securing information while working on foreign projects.

A report by Czech Radio’s investigative team published last month cited two former Huawei managers, who said that they had been aware of sensitive client information including their financial situation and family members gathered by the company.

One of them said that some client information was also discussed at the Chinese embassy.

While he did not look into the Czech Republic specifically during his research, Dr. Balding was not much surprised by the finding that such information was discussed at the embassy.

Photo: Paranoideas,  Pixabay / CC0
“In many countries in the West there is a clear distinction between who spies and who does not. In China these distinctions are considerably more blurred. Therefore, even if a diplomat did not work with an intelligence agency such as the Ministry of State Security, that information flow is just as important.

“In this case I think what is important to note is that even if we don’t know they are spies, they will work very closely with intelligence agencies and information gathering efforts to ensure that they have the ability to influence Czech decision makers to do their best to get Huawei installed in the network where they want it.”

Spokesman Pavel Košek says Huawei employees do not co-operate with any Chinese state authorities and that includes Chinese employees in the Czech Republic.