Chinese tech companies to Congress: We're not spies

Charles Ding, Huawei Technologies Ltd's senior vice president for the U.S., testifies before the House Intelligence Committee

Charles Ding, Huawei Technologies Ltd's senior vice president for the U.S., testifies before the House Intelligence Committee J. Scott Applewhite/AP

‘One person’s bug is another’s back door,’ Rep. Mike Rogers says.

Two Chinese telecommunications companies on Thursday repeatedly denied accusations that they are using their software and equipment to spy on customers for the benefit of the Chinese government.

Speaking to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, representatives from Huawei and ZTE told lawmakers that they answer exclusively to their shareholders and strive only to make profits, and rejected the notion they are accountable to the Communist Party in China.

“Our customers throughout the world trust Huawei. We will never do anything that undermines that trust,” said Charles Ding, Huawei’s corporate senior vice president. “It would be immensely foolish for Huawei to risk involvement in national security or economic espionage.”

Republican and Democratic legislators alike were skeptical of the companies’ claims of innocence, leading to several confrontational exchanges between the legislators and corporate representatives.

At one point, Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., accused ZTE of using backdoor mechanisms in its software to illegally poach information about consumers using the program.

Zhu Jinyun, ZTE’s senior vice president for North America and Europe, also rebuffed the committee’s allegations, saying the reports of espionage were the result of a bug that has since been fixed.

“One person’s bug is another’s backdoor,” Rogers retorted. “It was clearly designed into the program.”

Ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said the political operations in the companies’ home country raise suspicions of their intentions when operating in the United States.

“[It creates] the fear that China, a communist country, could compel these companies to provide it information or -- worse yet -- spy on Americans using this equipment.”

Zhu emphasized that Chinese politics has no bearing on the decisions his company made.

“ZTE is a free market success story,” he said.

Ding, from Huawei, echoed the sentiment.

“We need to maintain political independence,” he said. “We have never and we will never harm any country or harm any of our customer’s networks. We will not be instigated by any government or third party to spy; if we did it would be corporate suicide.”

The House committee members pushed the companies to increase transparency in their business dealings, pointing out they still have not received information they have been asking for throughout the past year. The executives said they would do everything they could to deliver the information, but added they are sometimes handcuffed by local regulations in China.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Rogers voiced his frustration with the lack of candor from the telecom representatives.

“I am disappointed,” he said. “I was hoping for more transparency and more directness.”