By Ben Westcott, CNN
Hong Kong (CNN)A Huawei executive was denounced as a “moral vacuum” in a heated UK parliamentary committee hearing Monday, as lawmakers repeatedly compared the Chinese technology company to Nazi Germany collaborators.
Huawei’s global cybersecurity and privacy officer, John Suffolk, was asked multiple times by members of the Science and Technology Committee if the company had problems working with oppressive regimes.
Huawei is in contention to help build part of the UK’s super-fast 5G network and has faced increased scrutiny by government and security services. The United States has been pushing hard for the company to be banned from critical infrastructure projects in Europe, claiming it presents an unacceptable security risk.
“The company is deeply tied not only to China but to the Chinese Communist Party,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month, after Washington placed Huawei on a trade blacklist.
In Monday’s hearing, Suffolk was questioned in particular about the use of Huawei technology in Chinese detention centers in the western region of Xinjiang, where the US claims up to 2 million Muslim-majority Uyghur may be held.
“You’ve demonstrated a willingness to work with the Chinese government in a province where there are allegedly gross human rights abuses — that suggests a close working relationship with the Chinese government,” the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, MP Norman Lamb, said. “Should it cause us concern in terms of your work here?”
Suffolk said he wouldn’t accept that characterization, adding the company condemned human rights abuses “in any country in which it occurs.”
He said it was up to governments to set laws in the countries where Huawei operated, and repeated the company’s assertion that it was independent from the state.
Suffolk’s comments were described as “extraordinary” by committee members, while Conservative MP Julian Lewis labeled the Huawei executive as a “moral vacuum.”
Multiple comparisons were made by the UK MPs between Huawei’s cooperation with Beijing and collaborators who worked with Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.
“There’s a lot of laws in China isn’t there, just like there were a lot of laws in Nazi Germany,” Lewis noted.
‘We stand naked in front of the world’
Huawei has already been restricted from providing critical 5G infrastructure to the US as well as close allies such as Australia and New Zealand.
There were reports in April that the UK would ban Huawei from sensitive parts of the country’s communications infrastructure, while allowing the Chinese company to supply low-security networks.
When pressed by UK MPs, Suffolk denied Huawei was “obligated” to work with Chinese intelligence services under the country’s national security laws.
“We have looked at all of the Chinese laws, we have taken on board professors in Chinese laws … and there is no requirement on us or any other company to undertake what you’re suggesting,” he said.
“We have never had a request from the Chinese government to do anything untoward.”
Lewis described Suffolk’s response as “entirely unbelievable.”
But Suffolk said Huawei’s products had been closely inspected by multiple customers and countries to alleviate concerns over hidden backdoors or malicious software.
“We stand naked in front of the world and it may not be a pretty sight all of the time but we would prefer to do that because it enables us to improve our products,” he said.
“No can put us under pressure … We would prefer to close the business.”