Huawei has been donating masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers in cities around the world, including New York City and Washington, DC. But critics believe the company's actions aren't completely altruistic.
"Unfortunately, yet again, we are seeing how the Chinese government uses economic extortion to win Huawei and ZTE 5G contracts around the world. It's not surprising at all that they are using the COVID-19 crisis to advance the party's goals of digital and economic dominance. Nothing comes from Beijing without strings," Mike Rogers, chairman of 5G Action Now advocacy group, said in a statement. The group has been a loud and vocal proponent of the "race to 5G" between China and the US. Importantly, Rogers also is a former US representative who co-authored the 2012 US government report initially outlining the security threats allegedly posed by Chinese equipment vendors like Huawei and ZTE.
Huawei confirmed to Light Reading that it donated PPE to workers in NYC and DC through an "official donating channel." When questioned about the details of the donations, a company official said: "[O]ur intention is just to help those that we can and we happen to have access to supplies but we don't want this interpreted as some PR campaign to win over media. So I'm afraid we won't be providing or commenting on our donations."
Canadian and European media outlets have already reported on Huawei's donations in locations ranging from Toronto to Warsaw. Indeed, the company confirmed to Politico that it donated 1 million face masks to health workers in Spain, 838,000 for the Netherlands and 200,000 for Italy, for example.
PPE – including N95 face masks – are a valuable commodity all over the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Most N95 masks are produced in China, and now that the outbreak appears to be waning there, the country has been exporting the masks. Jacques deLisle, the director of the Center for the Study of Contemporary China at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times recently that China has been looking to gain political influence by having top diplomats announce mask donations. "It is certainly making it a tool of foreign policy," deLisle said.
Huawei is the largest supplier of wireless networking equipment in the world, but US officials have urged countries around the globe to ban Huawei equipment because, they claim, it can be used for Chinese espionage. Huawei denies those allegations, and has been working to retain its status as a top-tier equipment supplier with international network operators.