Chinese Huawei Executive Arrested in Poland Over Spying Charge as Tensions Build

Huawei display at the 2019 CES convention
Huawei display at the 2019 CES convention
Photo: Getty Images

Polish authorities arrested a Chinese executive on Tuesday. The Huawei exec, identified in the Polish and Chinese press as Weijing W. or “Stanislaw Wang,” is charged with spying but details of the allegations have not yet been made public.

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“Huawei is aware of the situation, and we are looking into it,” a spokesman for Huawei told multiple news organizations this morning. Weijing W.’s face has been blurred out of news reports in Poland and China, but the executive was pictured representing Huawei at a conference in 2017.

According to an English translation of a Polish news report, Weijing W. studied Polish at the Peking University of Foreign Studies and was hired by Huawei in 2006. He reportedly became the sales director of Huawei in Poland sometime in 2017 with an emphasis on sales “in the public sector.”

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Polish media reports that a former high-ranking intelligence official in Poland was also arrested on Tuesday. The Polish national, identified as Piotr D., previously worked for a mobile company called Orange Polska, though any possible links to Huawei haven’t been established at this point.

The arrests will no doubt be seen as an escalation in the tit-for-tat detention of employees between China and western countries like Canada and the U.S. since December 1, 2018. Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was detained in Canada at the request of the U.S. government over charges that she’s violated sanctions against Iran. Meng, aside from being a high-ranking executive, is also the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.

China arrested two Canadian citizens almost immediately after Meng’s arrest—Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who are accused of endangering China’s national security. At least thirteen Canadians have been arrested since Meng’s detention but most have reportedly been let go.

High-ranking American officials have warned for some time that Huawei’s relationship with the Chinese government is cause for concern and that the company’s technology could be used to spy on American citizens. But it was only in the past couple of years that the world started to see tech bans on both sides of the world.

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Huawei has been iced out of bidding on massive contracts for American, British, and Australian communications infrastructure like upcoming 5G networks. Aside from routine spying, American officials are also concerned that China could simply turn off all communications in the U.S. if the New Cold War turned into a more dire situation where troops were deployed.

On the other side of the world, owning a Huawei phone has become a patriotic act in China ever since Meng was arrested, with local businesses offering discounts to people with Huawei devices.

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The New Cold War isn’t going away anytime soon. So it’s probably a safe bet to say that many more arrests are in store, both in China and in the west. But if we’ve learned anything from history it’s that Cold War pissing matches can become very real threats to the safety of the entire world.

[South China Morning Post]

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

The Polish national, identified as Piotr D., previously worked for a mobile company called Orange Polska, though any possible links to Huawei haven’t been established at this point.

So some background information to make it more clear:

Piotr D. used to work for ABW (Agencja Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego - Internal Security Agency) - the same agency that made these arrests. He was a vice-president of the telecommunication security department. He was let go in 2011 after corruption scandal (choosing government suppliers for large IT system) but he was never charged in it. After that he worked for UKE (Urząd Komunikacji Elektronicznej - Office of Electronic Communication) that regulates the telecommunications and postal services market. And then he worked for Orange Polska which used to be Telekomunikacja Polska - government owned phone company. It’s still the biggest landline and mobile phone provider in Poland and is still partially owned by State Treasury (although France Telecom - Orange now owns majority stake).

Mobile providers in Poland are in the process of upgrading the infrastructure to 5G. Orange as one of the largest is on the forefront of this and the first test networks they build are using Huawei equipment. Huawei has a very strong position in this as only Huawei was ready to provide equipment to conduct commercial tests making it the default partner for mobile networks - e.g. T-Mobile (Deutsche Telekom) is even further into the upgrades and gave access to Huawei 5G modems to its business partners. French Orange has announced they won’t be using Huawei for 5G upgrades in France but each country division makes its own choices. It’s one way of getting access to EU through one of the poorer countries.

However, Piotr D. didn’t hold any management functions in Orange and was not responsible for cooperation with Huawei. He dealt with cooperation with the Polish Bank Association and was responsible for weather warning texts.