The Beijing Olympics selected China Unicom Beijing for the key communications role at the Winter Games, but the company has made it clear it is working closely with Huawei and relying upon Huawei technology for the event. Huawei, one of the global leaders in 5G wireless technology, has been deemed a national security threat by the U.S. government and is blacklisted. China Unicom Beijing’s parent company, China Unicom, has also been blacklisted in the United States for its ties to China’s military.
Beijing has pledged to provide open internet in venues and hotels during the games, dropping the firewall that blocks some Western services such as Facebook and YouTube. But many delegations, including Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada have warned athletes to keep their devices off Wi-Fi networks and even use burner phones. The U.S. has warned athletes their devices could be compromised with malicious software.
The selection of the blacklisted, Huawei-linked firm appears to have been made by China and not the International Olympic Committee, though the IOC itself has partnerships with Chinese companies linked to the Chinese government, implicated in using forced Uyghur labor in Xinjiang, and under U.S. scrutiny as national security threats.
Huawei in July touted that it and China Unicom Beijing “jointly deployed Super Uplink at more than 1,000 commercial sites in Beijing as part of their joint 5G Capital project,” which had launched in April 2020. Fan Liqun, the head of China Unicom Beijing’s 5G co-construction team, directly tied the Huawei partnership effort to the Olympics.
“To prepare for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics, the networks in each venue must be able to deliver ultimate experiences that stay consistent whether indoors or outdoors,” Liqun said. “5G Super Uplink is up to this task, and its large-scale commercial deployment at 1,000 of our sites is another major innovation milestone of the 5G Capital project. China Unicom Beijing will continue to innovate together with Huawei.”
Ma Hongbo, a leader of Huawei’s radio access network technologies, said, “Huawei is happy to have helped China Unicom Beijing deploy Super Uplink at such a scale, in over a thousand sites, and will further support China Unicom Beijing in its vision to continuously build high-quality 5G networks.”
The Beijing Olympics’s website lists China Unicom as an “Official Partner of Beijing 2022” and says Han Zirong, then the secretary general of the Beijing Organizing Committee, and Mai Yanzhou, then the deputy general manager of China Unicom, signed the partnership agreement during a December 2017 ceremony at China Unicom’s Beijing headquarters.
The Treasury Department added China Unicom to the “Communist Chinese Military Companies List” in January 2021, and the department followed up by adding it to the list of “Chinese Military-Industrial Complex Companies” that June. An executive order from President Joe Biden labeled China Unicom as part of the “defense and related materiel sector” of the Chinese economy last summer.
The Justice Department and U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Huawei and other Chinese companies could be working hand in hand with the ruling Communist Party, potentially giving China‘s surveillance state access to hardware and networks around the world.
The Federal Communications Commission designated Huawei as a national security threat in the summer of 2020, banning the company from accessing U.S. government subsidies to build communication infrastructure.
The Commerce Department explained in December 2020 that Huawei was added to the entity list in May 2019 because the company and its affiliates “engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.”
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