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Leaked docs show China’s Huawei secretly developed North Korea’s 3G network

Huawei Canada. (Raysonho/Wikimedia Commons)
July 22, 2019

China secretly worked with Huawei to develop North Korea’s 3G wireless network, according to newly released documents.

Documents obtained exclusively by The Washington Post this week revealed Huawei’s workings with Chinese state-owned Panda International Information Technology Co. to provide the equipment used to build the Koryolink cellular network for North Korea.

The project took place in 2008, just two years after Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, made a secret visit to Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen, China. The visit took place as North Korea was struggling to find partner companies to develop its cellular network.

Former employees also told The Post anonymously that they worked on the project in a hotel located in Pyongyang for at least eight years, a fact that was supported with “past work orders, contracts and detailed spreadsheets taken from a database that charts the company’s telecom operations worldwide,” The Post noted.

The work was tracked in such a way that made it difficult to tell Huawei was even involved in the project.

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Panda had shipped Huawei’s networking equipment to the northeastern China town of Dandong, then transferred it to a train that shipped it to Pyongyang. Huawei then carried out “network integration” and “software” services, along with “managed service” and “network assurance” services, according to the documents.

Huawei and Panda also worked with another Chinese company, Dandong Kehua, which the U.S. sanctioned in November 2017 for trading with the sanctioned North Korea.

Using secret codes to identify countries, Huawei concealed the fact that they were doing business in sanctioned countries.

“You’d run a query on the projects and you’d see Germany, United States, Mexico. Then instead of a country name, you’d see A5, A7, A9, and you’d say, ‘What’s that?’” a former Huawei employee told The Post. “I assume it’s because they didn’t want to say ‘Iran’ or ‘Syria.’”

In an online forum used by Huawei employees, one user mentioned helping develop the Koryolink network in 2009 in “A9,” adding a Roman letter code “chaoxian,” which means North Korea.

“All of this fits into a general concern we have about corporate responsibility and a company like Huawei that is not trustworthy because of its company culture and numerous incidents indicating a willingness to evade or outright violate laws,” a current State Department official told The Post anonymously. “Working with regimes like North Korea, who deprive individuals on a regular basis of their basic human rights, raises concern.”

Uncovering Huawei’s activities in North Korea suggests they may have violated various U.S. and U.N. sanctions on North Korea. The Department of Justice recently charged Huawei with bank fraud and violating U.S. sanctions after it was found to be concealing its dealings in Iran.

The Commerce Department has already been investigating activities between Huawei and North Korea since 2016.

Huawei insists that it has no business with North Korea.

“Huawei is fully committed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate, including all export control and sanction laws and regulations” Huawei said in a statement provided to The Post.