Huawei Technologies, China’s giant tech firm enmeshed in Beijing’s trade dispute with the United States, secretly helped North Korea develop a commercial wireless network in recent years, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The newspaper said that a review of internal company documents and sources familiar with Huawei’s operations showed that the company partnered with a Chinese state-owned firm, Panda International Information Technology, on several North Korean projects over a span of at least eight years.
The Post said the source of the information – past work orders, contracts and detailed spreadsheets – was a former Huawei employee who considered the information to be of public interest, but spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing a fear of retribution.
Huawei’s assistance to North Korea raises immediate questions whether the company, which has used American technology in its products, violated U.S. export controls against furnishing equipment to Pyongyang. The reclusive communist regime continues to be under international economic sanctions related to its nuclear weapons development and human rights abuses.
The administration of President Donald Trump, citing national security concerns, sanctioned Huawei in May, prohibiting U.S. companies from selling parts to Huawei without special licenses out of fear that its products could be used to gather intelligence for Beijing. China has called Huawei a “national champion.”
But after Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 economic summit in Japan a month ago, the U.S. leader, in an effort to restart trade talks with China, acceded to Xi’s request to renew sales of American parts to Huawei, but said that would only occur if the sales posed no threat to U.S. national security.
Separately from Huawei’s involvement in North Korea, the U.S. has accused the company with bank fraud and violations of its ban on trade with Iran. The company has pleaded not guilty.
In a statement, Huawei said it “has no business presence” in North Korea, but declined to answer questions whether it had worked there in the past.
“Huawei is fully committed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate,” the company said, “including all export control and sanction laws and regulations of the United Nations, United States and European Union.”
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow is meeting Monday with U.S. semiconductor and software executives about economic matters, as well as sales of their products to Huawei. Despite Trump’s agreement with Xi to reopen sales that did not threaten U.S. national security, the U.S. has yet to detail what sales will be permitted.