Huawei: Indian Ocean Region island states on Huawei’s radar for alleged surveillance activities

A recent controversy over Huawei’s plan in Mauritius, a close strategic partner for India in the Indian Ocean Region, has brought to the fore the larger issue of cybersecurity, information security and electronic surveillance in Small Island Developing States, allegedly at the behest of China.

Huawei has a nearly two-decade old presence in Mauritius and the company states on its website that Huawei will play a key role in the installation of Safe City infrastructure to “transform Mauritius into a safe and stable country and make it the first African nation with integrated security and intelligence”.

Huawei, in partnership with Mauritius Telecom, has proposed to build an all-cloud Safe City based on the concept of ‘one cloud and one pool’; harnessing centralized, mixed storage of videos, images, voice, and structured data gathered from multiple sources including surveillance cameras. Huawei claims that it is the only vendor in the industry that can simultaneously integrate converged command, intelligent surveillance, intelligent transportation, and cloud computing, and its Safe City solution has been deployed in 230 cities in more than 90 countries and regions.

This very technology has created controversy globally. But Huawei has always firmly rejected allegations about its special links with the Chinese Communist Party. Founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former Deputy Regimental Head in the People’s Liberation Army, the company has steadily garnered a large share of the global market in the past three decades. However, the company’s business and technology has come under scrutiny across the world including in India.

In 2016, Huawei Marine Networks teamed up with E-marine, the principal provider of submarine cable solutions in West Asia to complete the 260-km Avassa Submarine Cable System marine installation in Comoros Islands. In 2018, Comoros President Azali Assoumani, while on an official tour of China visited Huawei’s Beijing Executive Briefing Center. During the visit Assoumani said that his government expected to cooperate with Huawei to achieve the 2030 Strategic Vision in Comoros.

The company claims to serve 80 percent of the Comoros population with its products and services. In neighboring Madagascar, in 2015, a Smart City project was launched in partnership with the Huawei Group, and has since gathered pace. Reports indicated that in 2020, the nation’s senate had approved a US$ 42.7 million deal to modernize the country’s public communications infrastructure with Huawei.


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