UI College of Engineering halts new partnerships with Huawei

UI College of Engineering halts new partnerships with Huawei

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois will stop accepting new partnerships with the Chinese tech firm Huawei, which the U.S. government considers a national-security threat.

The new policy was announced earlier this week in an email to faculty and staff in the College of Engineering.

"Effective immediately, the university will not be accepting any new grants, contracts or gifts from Huawei or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates," wrote Engineering Dean Rashid Bashir and Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Susan A. Martinis. "Faculty members with existing agreements have been notified of this decision, and they will be allowed to spend down their existing funding balances to complete the originally contracted scope of work. New agreements or proposals will not be approved or accepted by the university."

Engineering spokesman Bill Bell said this won't impact too many researchers.

"There are 11 researchers out of about 3,000 faculty who have sponsored research awards" from Huawei, Bell said.

The UI had already taken steps in 2016 to forbid Huawei equipment from connecting to UI networks, before a law was signed last year restricting recipients of federal funding from using Huawei equipment but after U.S. officials began warning about Huawei.

Huawei also has an office at the UI Research Park, but Bell said companies there don't lease their space there through the university.

"The Huawei office lease contract is not with the university, but with the building's landlord and remains in effect," said Andrea Ruedi with Fox/Atkins Development.

Employees there use their own equipment and networks, Ruedi said earlier this year.

The office's site director did not return a request for comment. The company has denied it is a security threat.

Huawei is the second-largest manufacturer of cellphones and the world's largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, which is used in cell towers and routers, for example.

The U.S. government has been issuing warnings since at least 2012 that Huawei equipment could be used to spy on American companies and government agencies, though there has been no public evidence that it has done so.

The antagonism has heated up in recent months.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer and the daughter of its founder, was arrested in December for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions against Iran by selling equipment to the country through a subsidiary.

And in January, the U.S. Department of Justice filed 13 charges against the company and Meng, including for allegedly stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile.

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also ended new collaborations with Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese tech firm targeted by the U.S. government.

Bell said the UI made its decision in response to the latest developments.

"We see the new rules. We see the U.S. government filing charges," he said. "It's fair to say it was an appropriate time to reassess."