Huawei hires Britain’s former IT chief

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Huawei Technologies on Monday said it had hired John Suffolk, the former chief information officer for the UK government, as a cybersecurity official as the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker tries to reassure customers who are concerned that it has links to the Chinese military.

Mr Suffolk, who oversaw UK government IT projects for nearly five years, is to develop Huawei’s cybersecurity programme, which will aim to protect its telecoms equipment from possible hacking attempts and improve communication with consumers and governments. Mr Suffolk, who will be based at Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China, will report directly to company founder Ren Zhengfei.

He is the latest in a series of high-profile westerners hired by the company in an effort to improve its image. In 2009 Huawei hired Matt Bross, the former chief technology officer at BT, as its CTO.

While working for the British government Mr Suffolk was known as an advocate of reforms, such as moving all government computer systems into the “G-Cloud”, a system of shared data centres, to save money.

Huawei is keen to expand into markets such as the US and the UK, but has been dogged by controversy.

Mr Ren was an officer in the People’s Liberation Army and concerns persist in Washington that Huawei could have close links to the military, a situation which might threaten the security of its customers’ telecoms networks. Huawei has repeatedly rejected these assertions and maintains it is a privately held company in which the Chinese government and the PLA have no shares. The company has tried to improve communications with US officials, lawmakers and analysts, hiring former US government officials and industry executives, and committing to unprecedented outside security checks.

However, its attempts to break into the US market have been repeatedly rebuffed, beginning with its failed attempt to buy 3Com, a US network equipment maker, in 2008. That deal, like Huawei’s aborted purchase last year of 3 Leaf, a small US company, was abandoned after the powerful US Committee on Foreign Investment refused to give it national security clearance.

Last year Huawei was told it was no longer in contention for a Sprint Nextel contract after Gary Locke, the US commerce secretary, called Dan Hesse, the mobile operator’s chief, to express his concerns. Huawei has had better success in the UK, where it won a contract with BT in 2005, and has been in talks to install a mobile network in the London Underground.

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