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De Chinese techgigant Huawei wordt opnieuw hard geraakt. Het bedrijf, dat de afgelopen jaren op de smartphonemarkt steeds populairder is geworden, krijgt vanaf komende dinsdag geen geavanceerde chips meer. Eerst moest Huawei het al zonder Googles downloadwinkel Play Store stellen, waardoor de telefoons minder interessant werden voor de westerse markt.

Dat het geen chips meer krijgt komt door sancties van de VS, die eerder dit jaar zijn aangekondigd. Het is fabrikanten die werken met Amerikaanse apparatuur of software verboden om te produceren voor de Chinese techgigant.

Dat is een probleem voor de productie van Huawei’s high-end smartphones, zei een topman Huawei in augustus. “Dit is een groot verlies voor ons, dit is mogelijk het laatste jaar dat we zelf geavanceerde chips kunnen maken.”

Geen oneindige chipvoorraad

Het bedrijf heeft waarschijnlijk een chip-voorraad aangelegd voor een aantal maanden. Daarna breekt er een onzekere tijd aan, zegt Marc Hesselink, tech-analist bij ING. “In de tussentijd gaat de ontwikkeling verder en worden chips geavanceerder, maar die chips gaat het bedrijf niet krijgen.”

De sancties hebben niet alleen gevolgen voor de smartphone-divisie, zegt Hesselink, maar ook voor 5G. “Als je een netwerk gaat bouwen, wil je dan nog wel samenwerken met de partij die niet meer de nieuwste technologie kan leveren? Daar ga je wel over nadenken.”

Het was voor het Verenigd Koninkrijk een van de redenen om de 5G-apparatuur van Huawei alsnog te weren. Minister Grapperhaus van Justitie en Veiligheid schreef onlangs aan de Tweede Kamer dat de telecomproviders hier vooralsnog spreken van “beperkte invloed op de bedrijfsvoering” en dat ze maatregelen treffen.

Het wordt voor Huawei dus de uitdaging om chips te gaan produceren waar geen Amerikaanse technologie of patenten voor nodig zijn. Als dat al lukt dan zijn de telefoons die daaruit voortkomen minder goed dan die van Apple en Samsung, zegt analist Hesselink. Terwijl het bedrijf daar juist mee wil concurreren. Er wordt rekening mee gehouden dat het daardoor over en uit is voor Huawei.

“De VS heeft de zwakte in de Chinese tech-piramide gevonden”, zegt Hesselink. “De achilleshiel van het land is de chipproductie. Dat hebben ze zelf ook door, daarom investeren ze er massaal in. Maar zonder de juiste machines kom je daar niet ver mee.”

Sinds 2012 is Huawei’s marktaandeel in Nederland flink gegroeid, maar dit aandeel daalt sinds vorig jaar, blijkt uit cijfers van onderzoeksbureau Telecompaper:

Daarnaast zullen bedrijven terughoudend zijn om zaken te doen met Huawei, zegt Tim Wijkman, analist bij onderzoeksbureau Telecompaper. “De angst van bedrijven is dat ze tegen de schenen van de VS schoppen. Dus bedrijven zullen heel voorzichtig zijn met leveren. Amerika heeft de touwtjes in handen.”

Het is klap op klap voor het Chinese concern, dat al tijden onder vuur ligt in Washington. De regering-Trump vreest dat Huawei, vanwege de band met de Chinese overheid, namens hen spionage- en sabotage-activiteiten kan uitvoeren. Huawei heeft dit altijd tegengesproken.

Android-licentie ingetrokken

Vorig jaar maakte de VS het via een andere sanctie al onmogelijk om Huawei nog langer gebruik te laten maken van een Android-licentie. Die heeft het bedrijf nodig om Googles downloadwinkel, de Play Store, en populaire Google-diensten als Maps en YouTube te kunnen installeren.

“Het alternatief dat Huawei biedt, een eigen downloadwinkel, is in Europa geen succes”, zegt Wijkman. “We zien een behoorlijke daling in interesse in Huawei-toestellen.” Dit beeld wordt herkend door techsite Tweakers, dat via zijn Pricewatch interesse in telefoonmerken vanuit zijn community in beeld heeft. Het Chinese bedrijf kon in april 2019 rekenen op een aandeel van tien procent en dat is inmiddels gehalveerd.

NOS Tech

Deskundigen zetten vraagtekens bij de samenwerking van de Amsterdamse universiteiten UvA en VU met de Chinese techgigant Huawei. Het Chinese bedrijf heeft voor 3,5 miljoen euro de universiteiten ingeschakeld om zijn Europese zoekmachine te verbeteren, schrijft het Financieele Dagblad. De vraag is of daarbij genoeg rekening is gehouden met veiligheidsrisico’s.

Het is de bedoeling dat de universiteiten een lab oprichten waar zo’n tien onderzoekers in dienst van de VU en UvA gaan werken. De wetenschappers zullen onderzoek doen naar het gebruik van kunstmatige intelligentie. Ze willen met name kijken naar de ontwikkeling van een zoekmachine die rekening houdt met de verschillende talen en culturen in Europa.

Onder vergrootglas

Het samenwerkingsverband tussen Huawei en de universiteiten is opvallend omdat het Chinese telecombedrijf in de westerse wereld onder een vergrootglas ligt. Al meer dan een jaar worden er zorgen geuit over de rol van de Chinese fabrikant bij de uitrol van 5G-netwerken. Met name de VS waarschuwt voor potentiële spionage en sabotage vanwege warme banden die het bedrijf heeft met de Chinese overheid.

Huawei heeft altijd tegengesproken dat hier sprake van is en er is nooit hard bewijs op tafel gekomen.

Risico’s

De UvA en de VU zeggen zich bewust te zijn van de risico’s en daarom duidelijke afspraken met Huawei te hebben gemaakt. De universiteiten hebben contact opgenomen het ministerie van Economische Zaken en de AIVD om te kijken naar de risico’s.

Economische Zaken zegt dat de universiteiten in een gesprek is gewezen op de risico’s. Meer zou de overheid op dit moment niet kunnen doen. Het ministerie wil niet meedelen op welke risico’s het de universiteiten heeft gewezen.

Cybersecurity-deskundige Mary-Jo de Leeuw vindt het gek dat de verantwoordelijkheid voor de veiligheid volledig bij de universiteiten wordt gelegd. “Juist omdat het kabinet heeft gezegd Huawei te willen weren uit de kritieke delen van het Nederlandse 5G-netwerk.”

Militaire doeleinden

Bovendien kan de overheid zich volgens De Leeuw beroepen op het Wassenaar Arrangement. De overheid kan een stokje steken voor de export van technologieën die ook voor militaire doeleinden kunnen worden gebruikt. “Op dit moment is niet vast te stellen voor welke doeleinden de onderzoeksresultaten gebruikt zullen worden. In theorie zouden ze voor militaire doeleinden gebruikt kunnen worden.”

De universiteiten garanderen dat de risico’s beperkt zijn. Zo wordt het lab opgericht door de universiteiten en zijn de medewerkers in dienst van de UvA of de VU. “We gebruiken bovendien alleen data op onze eigen servers en daar kunnen Huawei-medewerkers niet bij”, zegt een woordvoerder van de VU.

Daarnaast worden de onderzoeksresultaten openbaar gemaakt en zijn deze niet exclusief beschikbaar voor het Chinese telecombedrijf. Allemaal afspraken die volgens de universiteiten standaard gemaakt worden met alle bedrijven waarmee zij zaken doen.

Transparantie

Toch zou het goed zijn als de universiteiten de contracten inclusief geheime clausules openbaar zouden maken zodat duidelijk wordt welke afspraken er zijn gemaakt, stelt Bart Jacobs, hoogleraar computerbeveiliging aan de Radboud Universiteit. “In dit soort situaties kan alles beter transparant zijn.”

Los van de kennis en technologie zou Huawei ook nog interesse kunnen hebben in iets anders. “Met deze samenwerking hoopt het Chinese bedrijf goodwill te creëren”, zegt Jacobs. “De universiteiten worden gebruikt in een Chinese PR-strategie en het is de vraag of je daaraan mee zou moeten werken.”

De Amsterdamse universiteiten lijken daar niet mee te zitten en zien de samenwerking als een grote kans om onderzoek te doen naar kunstmatig intelligentie. Het contract is in mei getekend en op dit moment worden onderzoekers geworven voor het lab.

Ook partijen in de Tweede Kamer zetten vraagtekens bij de samenwerking. Kamerlid Wiersma van regeringspartij VVD vraagt het kabinet “waarom het verdedigbaar is dat Amsterdamse universiteiten een samenwerking met Huawei starten, terwijl veel andere Europese landen dit juist uit de weg gaan”. De VVD noemt het “sowieso onwenselijk dat Chinezen 3,5 miljoen investeren in een technologie waarin onze onderzoekers en bedrijven keihard werken om zélf de beste te zijn”.

NOS Tech

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. This week, we have several heavy-hitting rumors swirling around, from Huawei’s chips for cars to Tencent’s potential buyout of its video rival iQiyi.

China tech at home

Huawei’s foray into autos

Huawei might be bringing the technology behind its Kirin smartphone processor into cars. According to Chinese tech publication 36Kr, Huawei has signed a strategic deal with domestic electric car giant BYD, which would be using the Kirin chips to digitize the “cockpits” (generally refer to the drivers’ cabins) in its cars.

The Kirin chips are developed by Huawei’s semiconductor subsidiary HiSilicon to hedge against U.S. sanctions and become self-sufficient in core smartphone technologies. What’s noticeable is that BYD, backed by Warren Buffet, had previously announced to adopt Qualcomm’s Snapdragon automotive chips in its electric vehicles, a partnership that was set to begin in 2019. Could the potential collaboration with Huawei be part of BYD’s move to decrease reliance on imported technologies?

BYD said it “does not have information to disclose at the moment,” while Huawei declines to comment on the rumor.

The potential alliance would not be all that surprising given the duo has already been working together closely. In March 2019, the companies, both Shenzhen-based, unveiled a strategic partnership to apply Huawei’s AI and 5G technologies in BYD’s alternative energy vehicles and monorails.

Automotive independence

More big moves from BYD — the automaker is rushing to become self-sufficient in the production of electric vehicles. After raising a 1.9 billion yuan ($ 270 million) Series A in late May, its chipmaking subsidiary BYD Semiconductor completed another 800 million yuan ($ 113 million) Series A+ round this week, apparently due to investors’ immense interest in getting involved in the only Chinese company capable of making the core chip part of electric cars called insulated gate bipolar transistors, or IGBTs.

ByteDance encroaches on Tencent’s turf

ByteDance just paid 1.1 billion yuan ($ 160 million) for a big plot of land to build offices in the heart of Shenzhen’s Nanshan district, according to public information disclosed by the government. Shenzhen is home to multiple Chinese tech heavyweights, including Tencent, Huawei and DJI. It also houses the China offices of foreign retail giants such as Lazada and Shopify, given the city’s rich manufacturing and logistics resources.

That gives ByteDance, the parent of TikTok, a significant presence in Tencent’s backyard. ByteDance is known to have aggressively lured talents from the entrenched tech trio of Baidu, Alibaba and Baidu by offering lucrative packages. Being in Shenzhen will no doubt give the company more access to Tencent’s talent pool.

This may help it in its push into video gaming, an area that has long been dominated by Tencent, the world’s biggest games publisher. Meanwhile, the world’s second-largest games company — NetEase — is right next door in Guangzhou, an hour’s drive away from central Shenzhen.

Shakeup in video streaming

Reuters reported this week that Tencent has approached Baidu to become the biggest shareholder in iQiyi, the video streaming giant controlled by Baidu. Tencent’s video platform competes neck to neck with iQiyi to churn out variety shows and dramas that will convince Chinese audiences to pay for online content.

Both companies are bleeding money on video production. IQiyi, which shed from Baidu to list on Nasdaq, widened its net loss to 2.9 billion yuan ($ 406.0 million) in Q1 this year, up from 1.8 billion yuan the year before. Selling iQiyi to deep-pocketed Tencent may further ease the financial burden on Baidu, which is busy coping with ByteDance’s threat to its core advertising business. Both Tencent and iQiyi declined to comment on the report.

Robotics startup Geek+ raises $ 200 million 

Geek+, a startup that specializes in making logistics robots that are analogous to those of Amazon’s Kiva machines, just closed a substantial Series C round. The company is one to watch as retail companies in China and North America are increasingly looking to automate their warehouses.

China tech abroad

China’s gay dating app Blued goes public on Nasdaq

Despite limited support for LGBTQ communities in China, Blued, a Chinese app used by millions of gay individuals, has been quietly blossoming over the past few years and is eyeing to raise $ 50 million from a U.S. initial public offering.

JD.com goes public in Hong Kong

JD’s long-awaited secondary listing is here. The online retailer’s shares rose 5.7% to HK$ 239 ($ 30.8) on its first day of trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Several U.S.-listed Chinese companies have filed to list in Hong Kong because of a new bill that will impose more scrutiny on Chinese firms trading on the U.S. stock markets.


TechCrunch

Following the U.S. government’s announcement that would further thwart Huawei’s chip-making capability, the Chinese telecoms equipment giant condemned the new ruling for being “arbitrary and pernicious.”

“Huawei categorically opposes the amendments made by the U.S. Department of Commerce to its foreign direct product rule that target Huawei specifically,” said Huawei Monday at its annual analyst summit in Shenzhen.

The new curbs, which dropped on Friday, would ban Huawei from using U.S. software and hardware in certain strategic semiconductor processes. This will affect all foundries using U.S. technologies, including those located abroad, some of which are Huawei’s key suppliers.

Earlier on Monday, the Nikkei Asian Review reported citing sources that Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract semiconductor that powers many of Huawei’s high-end phones, has stopped taking new orders from Huawei, one of its largest clients. Huawei declined to comment while TSMC said the report was “purely market rumor”.

Decisions from TSMC point to its attempt to strengthen bonds with the U.S. though, as it’s planning a new $ 12 billion advanced chip factory in Arizona with support from the state and the U.S. federal government.

At the Monday conference, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping admitted that while the firm is able to design some semiconductor parts such as integrated circuits (IC), it remains “incapable of doing a lot of other things.”

“Survival is the keyword for us at present,” he said.

Huawei stated the latest U.S. ban would not only affect its own business in over 170 countries, where it has spent “hundreds of billions of dollars,” but also the wider ecosystem around the world.

“In the long run, [the U.S. ban] will damage the trust and collaboration within the global semiconductor industry which many industries depend on, increasing conflict and loss within these industries.”

Huawei has announced a raft of contingency measures ever since the Trump administration began slapping technology sanctions on it, including one that had cut it off certain Android services from Google.

Huawei said at the summit that it had doubled down on investment in overseas developers in an effort to lure them to its operating system. Some 1.4 million developers have signed up for Huawei Mobile Services or HMS, a 150% jump from 2019. In its search to identify alternatives to Google’s app suite in Europe, it has partnered up with navigation services TomTom and Here, search engine Qwant and news app News UK. 


TechCrunch

Trump said in July that some U.S. suppliers would be allowed to sell to Huawei while it remains blacklisted, but so far no vendors have been allowed to do so. Reuters reports that more than 130 applications have been submitted by companies that want to do business with Huawei, but the U.S. Commerce Department has not approved any of them yet.

Huawei has served as a bargaining chip in the U.S.-China trade war, which escalated again last week when Trump said he would adds tariffs to $ 550 billion worth of Chinese imports, after China said it would impose duties of $ 75 billions on U.S. goods. Trump’s mixed signals during this weekend’s G7 summit also created confusion on Wall Street.

When both presidents met at the G20 Summit in June, Donald Trump told Chinese leader Xi Jinping that he would allow some American companies to sell to Huawei, even though it remains on the Commerce Department’s Entity List. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the Commerce Department would begin accepting applications again, requiring companies to prove that the tech they sell to Huawei would not pose a national security risk.

But one of the reasons no licenses have been granted yet is because the Commerce Department is unclear about what it is supposed to do. Former Commerce department official William Reinsch told Reuters that “nobody in the executive branch knows what [Trump] wants and they’re all afraid to make a decision without knowing that.”

In addition to providing telecom equipment, Huawei is an important customer for many U.S. tech firms, including Qualcomm, Intel and Micron. Out of the $ 70 billion in parts it bought last year, $ 11 billion of that went to U.S. suppliers. The U.S. claims Huawei is a national security risk, a charge the company has repeatedly denied.


TechCrunch

The Trump administration has banned U.S. federal agencies from buying equipment and obtaining services from Huawei and two other companies as part of the government’s latest crackdown on Chinese technology amid national security fears.

Jacob Wood, a spokesperson for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, was quoted as saying that the administration will “fully comply” with the legislation passed by Congress as part of a defense spending bill passed last year.

CNBC first reported the spokesperson’s remarks.

The new rule will take effect in a week — August 13 — and will also take aim at Chinese tech giants ZTE, Hytera, and Hikvision, amid fears that the companies could spy for the Chinese government. The rule comes in a year before Congress’ mandated deadline of August 2020 for all federal contractors doing business with Huawei, ZTE, Hytera and Hikvision.

The government will grant waivers to contractors on a case-by-case basis so long as their work does not pose a national security threat.

Huawei has long claimed it does not nor can it spy for the Chinese government. Critics, including the government and many lawmakers, say the company’s technology, primarily networking equipment like 5G cell stations, could put Americans’ data at risk of Chinese surveillance or espionage. Huawei has vigorously denied the allegations, despite findings from the U.K. government that gave a damning assessment of the technology’s security.

The company first came to focus in 2012 following a House inquiry, which labeled the company a national security threat.

Spokespeople for Huawei and ZTE did not respond to requests for comment.


TechCrunch

The UK’s next prime minister must prioritize a decision on whether or not to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to be a 5G supplier, a parliamentary committee has urged — warning that the country’s international relations are being “seriously damaged” by ongoing delay.

In a statement on 5G suppliers, the Intelligence and Security committee (ISC) writes that the government must take a decision “as a matter of urgency”.

Earlier this week another parliamentary committee, which focuses on science and technology, concluded there is no technical reason to exclude Huawei as a 5G supplier, despite security concerns attached to the company’s ties to the Chinese state, though it did recommend it be excluded from core 5G supply.

The delay in the UK settling on a 5G supplier policy can be linked not only to the complexities of trying to weight and balance security considers with geopolitical pressures but also ongoing turmoil in domestic politics, following the 2016 EU referendum Brexit vote — which continues to suck most of the political oxygen out of Westminster. (And will very soon have despatched two UK prime ministers in three years.)

Outgoing PM Theresa May, whose successor is due to be selected by a vote by Conservative Party members next week, appeared to be leaning towards giving Huawei an amber light earlier this year.

A leak to the press from a National Security Council meeting back in April suggested Huawei would be allowed to provide kit but only for non-core parts of 5G networks — raising questions about how core and non-core are delineated in the next-gen networks.

The leak led to the sacking by May of the then defense minister, Gavin Williamson, after an investigation into confidential information being passed to the media in which she said she had lost confidence in him.

The publication of a government Telecoms Supply Chain Review, whose terms of reference were published last fall, has also been delayed — leading to carriers to press the government for greater clarity last month.

But with May herself now on the way out, having agreed to step down as PM back in May, the decision on 5G supply is on hold.

It will be down to either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining contenders to take over as PM, to choose whether or not to let the Chinese tech giant supply UK 5G networks.

Whichever of the men wins the vote they will arrive in the top job needing to give their full attention to finding a way out of the Brexit morass — with a mere three months til a October 31 Brexit extension deadline looming. So there’s a risk 5G may not seem as urgent an issue and a decision again be kicked back.

In its statement on 5G supply, the ISC backs the view expressed by the public-facing branch of the UK’s intelligence service that network security is not dependent on any one supplier being excluded from building it — writing that: “The National Cyber Security Centre… has been clear that the security of the UK’s telecommunications network is not about one company or one country: the ‘flag of origin’ for telecommunications equipment is not the critical element in determining cyber security.”

The committee argues that “some parts of the network will require greater protection” — writing that “critical functions cannot be put at risk” but also that there are “less sensitive functions where more risk can be carried”, albeit without specifying what those latter functions might be.

“It is this distinction — between the sensitivity of the functions — that must determine security, rather than where in the network those functions are located: notions of ‘core’ and ‘edge’ ate therefore misleading in this context,” it adds. “We should therefore be thinking of different levels of security, rather than a one size fits all approach, within a network that has been built to be resilient to attack, such that no single action could disable the system.”

The committee’s statement also backs the view that the best way to achieve network resilience is to support diversity in the supply chain — i.e. by supporting more competition.

But at the same time it emphasizes that the 5G supply decision “cannot be viewed solely through a technical lens — because it is not simply a decision about telecommunications equipment”.

“This is a geostrategic decision, the ramifications of which may be felt for decades to come,” it warns, raising concerns about the perceptions of UK intelligence sharing partners by emphasizing the need for those allies to trust the decisions the government makes.

It also couches a UK decision to give Huawei access a risk by suggesting it could be viewed externally as an endorsement of the company, thereby encouraging other countries to follow suit — without paying the full (and it asserts vitally) necessary attention to the security piece.

“The UK is a world leader in cyber security: therefore if we allow Huawei into our 5G network we must be careful that that is not seen as an endorsement for others to follow. Such a decision can only happen where the network itself will be constructed securely and with stringent regulation,” it writes.

The committee’s statement goes on to raise as a matter of concern the UK’s general reliance on China as a technology supplier.

“One of the lessons the UK Government must learn from the current debate over 5G is that with the technology sector now monopolised by such a few key players, we are over-reliant on Chinese technology — and we are not alone in this, this is a global issue. We need to consider how we can create greater diversity in the market. This will require us to take a long term view — but we need to start now,” it warns.

It ends by reiterating that the debate about 5G supply has been “unnecessarily protracted” — pressing the next UK prime minister to get on and take a decision “so that all concerned can move forward”.


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