Huawei is a national security risk and has engaged in unacceptable acts like routing network information to the Chinese government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has claimed.
"There's no question that Huawei has engaged in some practices that are not acceptable in national security," Schmidt said in a documentary to be aired on BBC radio.
"There's no question that information from Huawei routers has ultimately ended up in hands that would appear to be the state," he added. "However that happened, we're sure it happened."
The telecommunications giant has often been accused of posing a risk to national security, with U.S. officials worried it could enable Chinese espionage. Washington has put significant pressure on allies to bar Huawei from accessing their next-generation 5G mobile networks. The U.K. is now reviewing a decision to allow the firm a restricted role in its 5G rollout.
Experts say that Huawei would have no choice but to hand over network data to Beijing if it is requested due to Chinese espionage and national security laws. But Huawei has repeatedly denied accusations that it passes data to Beijing and insists it's independent from government.
The firm hit back at Schmidt for his comments Thursday, disputing the suggestion that it hands customer data to the Chinese authorities.
"The allegations made by Eric Schmidt, who now works for the US government, are simply not true and as with similar assertions in the past, are not backed by evidence," Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang told CNBC.
Schmidt, who led Google from 2001 to 2011, is now chair of the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Board.
In his interview with the BBC, he said he had previously held "prejudices" about China, such as the belief that tech firms in the country are "very good at copying things." He added that these prejudices now "need to be thrown out."
"The Chinese are just as good, and maybe better, in key areas of research and innovation as the West," Schmidt told the U.K. state-backed broadcaster. He urged Western countries to keep pace with the world's second-largest economy by investing more in research funding, ensuring increased public-private sector collaboration and remaining open to international talent.
It's not the first time Schmidt has commented on China. In 2018, the billionaire warned of a "bifurcation" of the internet into two separate models — one led by the U.S., and the other by China. He also admitted to having advocated for Google's work in China when it originally pulled out of the country. Google nixed plans to launch a censored search engine in China in 2018 following outrage from employees.
For more on Schmidt's views about Huawei, read the BBC's report here.