Read: Beijing wants to rewrite the rules of the internet
This particular moment is also significant because the new generation of mobile infrastructure—termed 5G—is due to be built out over the next few years. A relatively small group of companies can provide the technology to do 5G, and Huawei is globally competitive, especially given that many countries could see American companies as equally entangled with the nation’s national-security apparatus as Huawei is with China’s.
Even without American business, Huawei has grown tremendously in size and influence. American officials are working their hardest to keep Huawei out of its allies’ networks, but the company is “flourishing in Europe.”
The U.S. government has a long-expressed distaste for the Chinese telecom giant. In 2005, a congressional report averred that “industrial espionage is an active tool of China’s strategy for technological development.” In 2009, congressional opposition scuttled a proposed deal between Huawei and the American networking company 3Com. The year 2010 saw Sprint Nextel refuse bids from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese tech company. And in 2012, a different congressional report recommended that American telecom companies refrain from buying equipment from Huawei because of national-security risks. Huawei, for its part, has denied being a tool of the Chinese government.
“Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, as we have been investing in the United States, we have encountered a number of misperceptions that some hold about Huawei,” the company wrote in a 2011 open letter. “These include unfounded and unproven claims of ‘close connections with the Chinese military,’ ‘disputes over intellectual property rights,’ ‘allegations of financial support from the Chinese government,’ and ‘threats to the national security of the United States.’”
At the same time, the ongoing trade war with China adds weight to every China-related action by the Donald Trump administration.
In early December 2018, Canadian officials detained the Huawei CFO, who is also the company founder’s daughter. The U.S. is pressing to extradite her on fraud charges related to misrepresentations she allegedly made about Skycom, a company that the U.S. says Huawei secretly operated in Iran as a subsidiary, to financial institutions. That’s created a three-way diplomatic incident with the Canadian and Chinese governments.
The indictment regarding Tappy is less complex. According to the legal document, the Huawei China engineers who are building a similar robot straightforwardly asked Huawei USA engineers working with T-Mobile to gather detailed information all the way down to the “shape, diameter, and hardness” of the little tip that Tappy used to simulate fingers touching phones. After many different entreaties, they eventually smuggled a robot arm out of a T-Mobile facility, then returned it, and allegedly faked an investigation into the incident.