Chinese tech giant Huawei and Imperial College, the university spearheading the UK’s fight against COVID-19, have signed a £5 ($6.1) million deal. The deal will see the tech giant build new tech facilities and avail 5G network on the university’s west London campus.
Talking to the Mail on Sunday, representatives from the university said that, like other universities, they have received funding from Huawei over the past few years. “Such Funding is subject to our robust Relationship Review policies,” the university explained.
Imperial College has been at the forefront of helping the government combat coronavirus. Projections presented by a research team at the university, led by Professor Neil Ferguson, resulted in the initiation of a nationwide lockdown.
Ideally, a £5 million deal to help a university would widely be considered fine. However, eyebrows are being raised about potential conflicts of interest. And Huawei has been under increasing scrutiny from the West for its ties to the Chinese Communist Party who are using their technology to fuel human rights violations in the region.
Additionally, the projections by the Imperial College COVID-19 research team are themselves under heavy criticism. It was recently found out that Professor Ferguson was himself not following the lockdown measures that his data and proposals had caused the UK government to create.
Understandably, some politicians now feel this deal is more evidence of China’s attempts to influence the UK. According to MP Iain Duncan Smith, the deal is an example of how China continues to insert itself into the “global intellectual thought process.”
“How ironic it is Imperial that is dealing with the fallout of Covid-19. This is a deeply worrying and dangerous relationship,” Smith said.
The deal also has re-ignited fury over the government’s decision to allow Huawei to build more than 35% of the UK’s 5G infrastructure. That deal with the government raised questions about espionage from China.
Huawei has previously claimed independence from the Chinese government and ruling party, CCP. According to the government, the tech firm is not allowed to access critical national infrastructure, and its role in 5G is limited. But all that hardly assures critics that the tech giant will not build backdoor access to allow the Chinese government to spy.
A Huawei spokesperson said: “We are pleased to be working with Imperial to explore how new technologies can bring economic and social value through collaboration.”