The University of California’s flagship campus in Berkeley, one of the world’s top academic institutions, has halted new research collaborations with China’s Huawei Technologies in the wake of sweeping US criminal indictments against the telecoms equipment giant.
The directive banning new funding or gifts by Huawei or any of its subsidiaries and affiliates in support of UC Berkeley research projects took effect on January 30 “after careful internal review and consultation with peer institutions” because of the “serious allegations” in the US Justice Department’s 13-count indictment announced two days earlier, the university said.
“UC Berkeley holds its research partners to the highest possible standards of corporate conduct, and the severity of these accusations raises questions and concerns that only our judicial system can address,” Randy Howard Katz, the university’s vice chancellor for research, said in a letter to the school’s deans and other senior directors.
The Justice Department’s indictments contend that Huawei stole trade secrets from a telecoms rival and violated US sanctions against doing business with Iran.
The charges were brought against Huawei, China’s largest smartphone maker; its US affiliate; Hong Kong-based Skycom; and Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, for conspiracy that poses a national security threat to the US.
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Meng, 46, a daughter of Huawei’s founder, is accused of committing bank fraud to sidestep sanctions against doing business with Iran. She is free on bail in Vancouver, British Columbia, pending extradition proceedings.
UC Berkeley’s break with Huawei follows a similar move by Oxford University, which suspended all new research grants and donations the company last month.
The California school, which is the world’s fourth-best university according to US News & World Report rankings, recently removed a Huawei videoconferencing system to conform with restrictions established by the US National Defence Authorisation Act.
A provision of the act, which was signed into law by US President Donald Trump in August, bans recipients of federal funding from using telecommunications equipment, video recording services and networking components made by Huawei or ZTE.
The UC Berkeley directive lists 37 subsidiaries and affiliates of Huawei, including Skycom Tech, the Hong Kong company at the centre of Huawei’s alleged violation of US sanctions on Iran, Toga Networks, Proven Honour Capital and FutureWei Technologies.
The ban will not apply to existing multi-year collaborative agreements and contracts with Huawei that support research projects already underway because “none of these projects involve sensitive technological secrets,” according to the directive.
Those collaborations include a program called Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research, or BAIR, which is supported by Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung, Nokia and 15 other global companies including Huawei.
The BAIR programme brings together UC Berkeley faculty and graduate students pursuing research in the areas of computer vision, machine learning, natural language processing, planning and robotics.
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Over the past two years, funding provided by Huawei and its affiliates has totalled US$7.8 million, Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor in the school’s office of communications and public affairs, said in an emailed response to questions. Berkeley’s total research funding in the same period was about US$1.3 billion.
“Since the 1930s this university’s policy makes clear that we will not engage in any research whose results cannot be openly and publicly published,” Mogulof said.
“The only exception to that would be classified (and therefore highly restricted) national security work done in concert with the US government,” he said. “That is the nature of ‘fundamental research.’”
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