Huawei says it doesn't cooperate with Chinese military — after report says its employees did

Key Points
  • Huawei said there's no company-sanctioned cooperation with the Chinese military and does it not customize products for the country's armed forces.
  • That comes after Bloomberg reported that Huawei employees were part of several research projects with China’s People’s Liberation Army.
  • Huawei’s legal chief, Song Liuping, said Huawei makes “solutions for civil use.”
A woman cycles past a Huawei store in Shenyang, China.
Stringer | Reuters

Huawei does not have any company-sanctioned projects cooperating with China's military and does not customize products for use by the country's armed forces, the tech giant's legal chief told CNBC on Thursday.

That comes after Bloomberg reported earlier in the day that, based on public documents, Huawei's workers had cooperated with various parts of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) on research including on artificial intelligence and radio communications.

But the company exec denied there'd been any official work with the PLA.

"As far as I know, we don't have military cooperation projects because we are a company dedicated to provide communications systems and (information and communications technology) solutions for civil use," Song Liuping, chief legal officer at Huawei, told CNBC in a Thursday interview conducted in Mandarin and translated by a company-provided translator.

"My understanding is we don't have any projects that relate to the military cooperation category. Neither do we customize products or solutions for the military," he added.

Bloomberg's report outlined at least 10 initiatives in the last decade on which Huawei employees allegedly worked with Chinese military units. Those included one to extract and classify emotions in online video comments, according to the report. The information was gathered by looking at publicly available research papers whose authors were identified as Huawei employees, the report said.

A spokesperson for Huawei told CNBC the company is "not aware of its employees publishing research papers in their individual capacity."

Why the US thinks Huawei is a massive national security threat

Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei was a former officer in the PLA. Huawei's critics have pointed to that fact to suggest the company has a close relationship with China's military and government. The U.S. government is worried that Huawei's equipment could present a risk of China accessing user data. Washington has also suggested there's hazard associated with laws in China that apparently compel Chinese companies to help Beijing in any national intelligence work if asked.

Ren told CNBC earlier this year that the company would resist any request from Beijing for user data.

"Even if we were ordered to, Huawei would still not install backdoors. If a single backdoor was found in even one of the countries where we operate, our sales would shrink in all of them," Ren said.