Huawei Technologies Co. is suing critics in France who alleged it has ties to the Chinese state.

In an unprecedented move, the technology giant filed three defamation claims in Paris over comments made during television programs by a French researcher, a broadcast journalist and a telecommunications sector expert.

The company’s legal actions in France were published on Tuesday in a report by La Lettre A, an online investigative newsletter. Huawei confirmed the claims, which it said were filed with French law enforcement authorities in March.

A Huawei company logo is pictured at the Shenzhen International Airport in Shenzhen on July 22, 2019. (Picture: Aly Song/Reuters)

The filings come as the telecommunications gear maker seeks to bid for a piece of the future 5G network in Europe’s second-largest economy and in countries like Germany. Since the December 2018 arrest of its Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada, the Shenzen-based company has sought to fight reports of alleged links to the Chinese state.

Huawei said in a statement its claims “concern only statements that Huawei is a company controlled by the Chinese State and the Chinese Communist Party, led by a former member of the ‘counter-intelligence’ and using its technological expertise in telecom networks to commit acts of espionage against the Western world.” The company added that “these statements are false.”

US Case

Still, some of the critics’ remarks were reiterated this week by US Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison, who said in a Paris conference that Huawei would “have” to hand over data “if asked by the government” in China.

Huawei is resorting to legal measures as national security agencies in Europe and America have signaled concerns over the potential risks of using the company’s equipment and presented views on how they could be mitigated.

The Chinese company has sued the US government for barring its equipment from certain networks, a legal riposte to American accusations it aids China in espionage. Lawyers for Huawei urged a federal judge in Texas to rule that a US law that prohibits federal agencies and contractors from buying or using the Chinese telecom giant’s equipment because of the alleged risk of “cyber exploitation” by China, is an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to drive the company out of the country.

Network Equipment

France has said it won’t exclude any company from its 5G infrastructure, after passing a law this year that restricts access to critical parts of its networks to equipment that hasn’t been vetted by its national security authority. These include core network gear and tower bases.

Valerie Niquet, a researcher at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research that specializes in China and Japan, is a regular guest on French radio and television. Huawei filed the lawsuit after her comments in two television programs in February in which she said the company had ties to the state.

Niquet was informed of the claims in September and then in November when the police reached out to her to confirm her comments, according to copies of the authorities’ emails seen by Bloomberg.

Niquet said she confirmed her comments on TF1 television on Feb. 3, and similar remarks on France 5 television on Feb. 7. In those she alluded to the alleged control the Chinese state has over Huawei, also saying that “no one would have given a Soviet company the means to monitor all the communication in the Western world, and this is what we’re doing with Huawei.”

It’s not clear if the prosecutor will accept the claim and launch a formal investigation. The prosecutor’s office didn’t immediately respond to queries.

“I am surprised that Huawei decided to file a lawsuit against an expert who spoke in broadcast television programs, in her capacity as an expert on China,” Niquet said in an interview from Tokyo, Japan, where she is attending conferences.