The ability of countries to shut down each other’s power and communications grids is at the heart of warnings for Canada to exclude Chinese telecommunications firms from further investment here, experts say.
Minneapolis-based technology futurist Richard Thieme said countries having comparable technological warfare options to interrupt power grids, communications and other technology is a new form of mutually assured destruction. That’s the phrase coined to describe countries’ nuclear capabilities to annihilate each other during the Cold War.
“You penetrate, you disable, you take over systems, you later information, you take over,” Thieme said.
That’s what Canadian intelligence services have been telling the government and universities for years now. And, it’s what Canada’s New Zealand, U.S. and Australian partners in the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance have said as they banned China-based telecommunications giant Huawei from involvement in build-out of fifth-generation (5G) high-speed communications.
“Canada’s really ignoring this,” Thieme said. “It’s either ignorance or criminality or they are on the take or it’s collusion.”
Two U.S. senators have implored Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to act, expressing concerns about Canada’s telecommunications security and a company they assert is beholden to the Chinese government and military.
“Beijing will use its commercial position to gain access to businesses, technologies and infrastructure that can be exploited for intelligence objectives, or to potentially compromise a partner’s security,” a May 2018 Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) academic outreach report said.
Much of the current discussion centres around Huawei following chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Richmond on a U.S. extradition warrant Dec. 1. She was released on $10 million bail Dec. 12.
Founded by Meng’s billionaire father Ren Zhenfei, a former People’s Liberation Army military technologist, Huawei is now one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies.
The situation makes it highly unlikely Ottawa would ban use of Huawei and risk further antagonizing Beijing.
Huawei has contracted to provide infrastructure for Canadian mobility networks and for university research and development as well as cloud storage systems.
It has also donated millions to universities such as the University of British Columbia and the University of Regina with a focus on engineering faculties.
The company has stressed it is not a state-controlled enterprise.
John Bruk, founding chair of the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation, a not-for-profit organization focused on Canada’s relations with Asia, said Canada and its universities are being naive in ignoring those intelligence warnings.
Bruk said governments and schools need to understand every Chinese company must have a Communist Party member on its board to ensure compliance with party philosophy and demands.
Bruk said that now extends to the philosophy of President Xi Jinping whose philosophy – or ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ – is now enshrined in China’s constitution, the first such case since that of first Communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
And that, Bruk said, is what the CSIS has been trying to tell universities for a decade.
Bruk said Huawei’s current success in Canada comes in the wake of the implosion of Canadian tech giant Nortel.
Now, Huawei supplies network infrastructure for Telus, Bell Canada and SaskTel.
China makes no secret in The 13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development of the People’s Republic of China that it is moving quickly into the high-tech age. The plan pledges innovation in use of the internet, cloud and big data technologies.