The U.S. government has imposed strict sanctions against doing business with the North Korean government. But Huawei, a giant telecom company at the centre of a new Cold War between the U.S. and China, may have violated those sanctions by helping to build a 3G wireless network for North Korea, according to a new report from the Washington Post.
The Post cites three unnamed sources, including one former employee of Huawei, who all provided documents that show Huawei might have been working in North Korea with the country’s homegrown tech firm Koryolink. According to the Post, many of the details are still murky, but the documents, which sometimes include secret numerical codes instead of country names, raise questions about possible sanctions violations.
Huawei is reportedly working with a company called Panda International Information Technology, which is owned by the Chinese government. Panda was blacklisted by the U.S. Commerce Department in 2014 and has no presence in the U.S., so technically it wouldn’t matter if it was in violation of American sanctions because it has nothing to lose. Huawei, on the other hand, does have a U.S. presence, which means that it can’t provide technology or services to North Korea if it wants to continue to work in the U.S. legally.
The biggest question remaining is how much work Huawei did in North Korea versus how much was done by Panda International, something that’s difficult to discern. But it’s a big deal that Huawei may have done any work at all in the country run by notorious dictator Kim Jong Un.
From the Washington Post:
According to a 2008 contract, Panda would transport Huawei equipment to Dandong, a town in northeastern China known for cross-border trade. From there, it would be taken by rail into Pyongyang.
Internal documents show that Huawei has done business with a separate Chinese company, Dandong Kehua, which in November 2017 was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for exporting and importing goods to and from North Korea – trade seen by U.S. officials as financing Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Dandong Kehua has not publicly addressed the sanctions.
Representatives for Huawei deny the allegations that it has done work in North Korea, telling the Post that it “has no business presence,” in the Communist country. Huawei did not respond to a request for comment from Gizmodo this morning.
North Korea lagged behind the rest of the world in building out modern communications infrastructure, but the country has been slowly getting modern phone and internet service. The internet in North Korea is censored and has previously been compared to the 1990s movie The Truman Show in that it’s like an alternate and artificial world.
Huawei is already in hot water in the U.S. as the Justice Department has brought charges against the company including fraud, obstruction of justice, and the theft of trade secrets from T-Mobile. The Department of Commerce placed Huawei on the so-called Entity List over concerns that it posed a national security threat. American companies are forbidden from doing business with any company on the Entity List, though the Trump regime granted companies like Google a 90-day reprieve. Other companies need to apply for a waiver to do business with Huawei but the red tape is cumbersome and makes the process of working with the Chinese tech giant difficult. Major tech companies have reportedly been working behind the scenes to lobby Trump and hopefully lift restrictions on Huawei.
But so far things have been as clamped down as ever for the Chinese tech company. Huawei has cancelled the launch of its new MateBook laptop, citing U.S. trade restrictions and the case of its CFO, Meng Wanzhou, is still very much in limbo. Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Vancouver, Canada at the request of the U.S. government back in December 2018 for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Meng is under house arrest and the U.S. is trying to extradite her to face trial.
President Donald Trump has suggested that he might ease sanctions against Huawei in the U.S. in exchange for favourable trade terms, but that ploy seems to be going nowhere. Huawei is frustrated that sanctions haven’t been eased and Washington is frustrated because it hasn’t gotten better terms on trade.
No one knows for sure what the future holds for Huawei in the U.S. but if this latest report is any hint, the New Cold War is just getting started. But tomorrow is a new day, and President Trump is known to change his mind erratically, especially when it comes to countries like North Korea.
Just two years ago Trump was threatening to blow North Korea off the map with “fire and fury,” the likes of which we’d never seen. But today, his personal relationship with dictator Kim Jong Un is better than ever. In fact, Trump says that they’re in love.
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