UBC-Huawei research agreement continues amidst deteriorating China-Canada relations

UBC will continue its partnership with Huawei as Canada’s relationship with China continues to deteriorate following the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.

First established in 2017, the research agreement between UBC and Huawei has the Chinese telecommunications giant investing around $3 million over three years in 5G-related research initiatives.

And it looks like the partnership will keep moving, despite political tension.

“UBC is not aware of any restrictions regarding working with Huawei and will continue with its partnership with Huawei,” said UBC VP Research and Innovation Gail Murphy in a statement to The Ubyssey.

She added that the agreement is in line with “UBC’s core values and academic mandate,” and it provides an important source of work experience and research funding for graduate students.

But elsewhere, some universities have started to back away from agreements with Huawei. Last month, Oxford University decided to maintain its existing contracts with the company but not to pursue further funding from Huawei because of fears about future government constraints.

Murphy said UBC’s University Industry Liaison Office has ensured the school complies with any legal restrictions to working with foreign companies, and that research partnership agreements with the university contain publication clauses which allow for the public disclosure of discoveries in journals and conferences.

Canadian officials arrested Meng on December 1 in Vancouver under an extradition treaty between the US and Canada. The US alleged she violated the country’s sanctions against Iran.

“The arrest on December 1 … is a huge deal because it’s a very important person from one of the most important companies in China,” said Dr. Yves Tiberghien, a political science professor and the director of UBC’s Institute of Asian Research.

In recent years, Huawei has risen to become the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer, recently surpassing Apple. Meng is the daughter of Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei.

Shortly after Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadian citizens: ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, a businessman. Subsequently, China detained 11 other Canadian citizens, but “at least eight” have been released since.

Huawei Canada could not be reached for comment.

“There’s a growing cold war between the US and China — a great confrontation of power — and Huawei is a particularly high-value target,” Tiberghien said.