The Canadian unit of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd sought to distance itself from the actions of the Chinese government on Monday, with a top local executive saying the company is worried about two Canadian men being held by Beijing.
Canada‘s arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou – the daughter of the company’s founder – stands at the heart of months of tensions between the two countries.
After she was picked up in Vancouver on a U.S. arrest warrant, China detained two Canadian men and later charged them with spying. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has condemned the arrests and several Canadian allies, including the United States, are calling for their release.
“Obviously we’re concerned, like all Canadians are concerned, about their well-being,” Huawei Canada‘s Vice President of Corporate Affairs Alykhan Velshi said when asked about the two men being held in China.
“This is a time of real tension between Canada and China, and it can only be solved by governments,” Velshi told reporters in Ottawa, after announcing a partnership to furnish high-speed 4G Internet to isolated communities in Canada‘s Far North.
WATCH: Wireless announcement in Canada’s north not a PR move: Huawei
Huawei said it would partner with ICE Wireless and Iristel to provide high-speed internet to 20 communities in the Arctic and 70 in rural and remote areas of Quebec by 2025, potentially reaching some 200,000 people living in those areas.
No financial details were provided.
Velshi said the new project was approved under the federal Security Review Program, which is designed to protect critical infrastructure.
The program is run by the Communications Security Establishment, in conjunction with the Public Safety Department, Global Affairs Canada and other federal departments.
Huawei also said it would include residents of the Far North in its plans to train 1,000 Canadians to install and use its technology, and that it would launch a major advertising campaign in movie theaters across the country featuring short documentaries about how high-speed Internet is helping people in the Far North.
The Huawei announcements come amid diplomatic tensions and as experts in Ottawa are reviewing the security implications of 5G networks, including Huawei’s participation. The United States put Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, on a blacklist in May, citing national security concerns.
Last week, Reuters reported that Canada was likely to postpone a decision on whether to allow Huawei to supply 5G network equipment until after the October federal election due to increasingly strained relations with Beijing.
Velshi said the characterization of the company’s Canadian offices as “Dr. Evil’s lair” where they are “toiling away at the latest world-ending scheme” is false. Instead the offices are filled with “a bunch of engineers solving engineering problems,” he said.
Instead, he said, Huawei has been supplying network equipment in Canada since 2008, and had some 1,100 employees nationally.
Referring to the 5G decision, Velshi said: “We would ask for the government to judge us on our record in Canada, and for decisions to be made based on technology and not politics.”
*with files from the Canadian Press