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Pro-Huawei Influence Operations Uncovered In Europe

March 11th, 2021 13:30

In Jan­u­ary, US media report­ed on a covert online influ­ence cam­paign to sway Bel­gian telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions pol­i­cy in favor of the Chi­nese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions giant Huawei. Accord­ing to a New York Times report:

Jan­u­ary 29, 2021 LONDON — Edwin Ver­mulst, a trade lawyer in Brus­sels, did not think twice before he agreed to write an arti­cle for Huawei, the Chi­nese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions giant, that would crit­i­cize a Bel­gian pol­i­cy that threat­ened to box the com­pa­ny out of lucra­tive con­tracts. He had worked with the com­pa­ny for years. After the arti­cle was pub­lished Dec. 17 on a Dutch-lan­guage web­site, he moved on to oth­er work. “That was the begin­ning and end of my involve­ment,” he said. Lit­tle did he know that the arti­cle would take on a life of its own. It soon became part of a covert pro-Huawei influ­ence cam­paign in Bel­gium about 5G net­works, the high-speed wire­less tech­nol­o­gy at the cen­ter of a geopo­lit­i­cal dis­pute between the Unit­ed States and Chi­na. First, at least 14 Twit­ter accounts pos­ing as telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions experts, writ­ers and aca­d­e­mics shared arti­cles by Mr. Ver­mulst and many oth­ers attack­ing draft Bel­gium leg­is­la­tion that would lim­it “high risk” ven­dors like Huawei from build­ing the country’s 5G sys­tem, accord­ing to Graphi­ka, a research firm that stud­ies mis­in­for­ma­tion and fake social media accounts. The pro-Huawei accounts used com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed pro­file pic­tures, a tell­tale sign of inau­then­tic activity.

Read the rest here.

The report fur­ther sug­gests that social media manip­u­la­tions, a tac­tic often asso­ci­at­ed with gov­ern­ments like Chi­na or Rus­sia, are increas­ing­ly adopt­ed by major multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies to achieve cor­po­rate goals.

Only a few weeks after the pro-Huawei influ­ence oper­a­tion was uncov­ered, US media report­ed about yet anoth­er Europe-wide dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign involv­ing a net­work of fake web­sites ped­dling pro-Huawei con­tent. Accord­ing to a Politi­co report:

Feb­ru­ary 24, 2021 Huawei’s Euro­pean exec­u­tives have been pro­mot­ing con­tent pub­lished on more than a dozen fab­ri­cat­ed news web­sites in Bel­gium, the Nether­lands, Ire­land, Lux­em­bourg and Por­tu­gal, new research showed on Wednesday. […]

Dis­in­for­ma­tion researchers found 16 web­sites that seem to be oper­at­ed by the same peo­ple, and were reg­is­tered at the same time in Decem­ber, often shar­ing the same or sim­i­lar arti­cles writ­ten by Huawei exec­u­tives, Knack report­ed. Sev­er­al web­sites also pla­gia­rized arti­cles from local media in Europe and even from Euro­pean Union agen­cies to fill the same websites.

Read the rest here.

In 2020, the for­mer US admin­is­tra­tion launched a cam­paign to urge Euro­pean nations to bar Huawei, a lead­ing Chi­nese tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny, from Europe’s 5G net­works, argu­ing that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment could use its tech­nol­o­gy for spy­ing. While coun­tries such as Spain, Swe­den, or Hun­gary are build­ing their 5G net­work with Huawei equip­ment, coun­tries such as Bel­gium, the UK, or Ger­many have exclud­ed the Chi­nese com­pa­ny from its 5G net­work buildup.