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Stanford set to review Huawei and Futurewei moratorium in winter

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Earlier this month, the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Research approved a pilot Global Engagement Review Program (GERP), which will specifically review the University’s moratorium on Chinese telecom conglomerate Huawei and ultimately advise University leadership on whether or not to continue the moratorium. Instituted last December, the moratorium indefinitely paused Stanford’s research partnerships with Huawei and generated backlash among faculty, who criticized the lack of transparency behind the University’s decision.

Forming a review program was one of multiple recommendations made by two faculty committees formed last spring to examine undue foreign interference in research at Stanford. The two committees were tasked with forming guidelines on regulating foreign influence that addressed federal agencies’ mounting concerns about intellectual property theft from abroad while maintaining Stanford’s commitment to openness in research. 

The GERP will build upon the work of the two committees to specifically develop recommendations around Huawei gifts, as well as other specific engagements including industrial affiliates programs, sponsored research, fee-for-service agreements and visitors. However, there is no definite timetable for when the GERP or the university will make a decision on the moratorium, according to Dean of Research Kathryn Moler. 

The Committee on Research’s decision comes as faculty remain unsatisfied with the University’s justification of the moratorium, which has cost over $6 million in research funding, according to data compiled by those affected. 

Some professors worry that the federal government is pressuring universities to cut off Huawei funding. Moler told faculty at an October Committee on Research meeting that the moratorium was necessary because faculty do not always report sources of funding when applying for U.S. government grants, recalled Joyce Farrell, who leads the Stanford Center for Image System Engineering (SCIEN).

Moler denied that the federal government pressured the University into instituting the moratorium. 

“We made this decision based on publicly available information, evaluating benefits and risks,” she wrote in an email to The Daily.

However, Moler mentioned that the University has ramped up its efforts to ensure that faculty comply with federal disclosure requirements. Yet a key question for those affected by the moratorium remains: If Stanford faculty fully disclose all sources of research funding, why should the ban on Huawei funding remain in place? 

“The main thing that I want to stress is that nothing nefarious is going on, and faculty should not be made to feel guilty about working with scientists, physicians and engineers in China … as long as the work is made publicly available to everyone,” Farrell wrote in an email to The Daily, referencing Stanford’s policy that all research be openly published. 

Moler did not respond to The Daily’s inquiries about why gift donations from Huawei should be banned if faculty comply with all federal and university disclosure requirements. Huawei is currently on the Department of Commerce’s Entity list, which prohibits Stanford faculty from transferring or sharing technological equipment with Huawei absent an export license review. Yet Huawei’s collaborations with Stanford research projects are largely limited to funding of non-classified and publicly-available research. 

UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor of Research Randy Katz acknowledged that collaboration with Huawei over fundamental research is technically different than collaboration over sensitive technologies, the latter of which is subject to export license review. Yet the line between the two is often “ambiguous,” Katz said.

UC Berkeley instituted its own moratorium on Huawei earlier this year after the federal government indicted the company for stealing trade secrets, violating economic sanctions, wire fraud and obstruction of justice. 

Conflict between Huawei and the U.S. government has recently escalated. Earlier this month, Huawei sued the Federal Communications Commissions for unfairly barring American telecommunications companies from using federal subsidies to buy Huawei equipment. The Trump administration considers Huawei a national security threat, given its close connections with the Chinese government. 

“Showing an abundance of caution we cut off funds and meetings with Huawei employees,” Katz wrote in an email to The Daily, echoing the language Moler used in her own initial announcement of the moratorium. 

Yet unlike Stanford, UC Berkeley has lifted its moratorium on Futurewei, the U.S.-based research arm of Huawei. While Huawei continues to own Futurewei, the company has moved to separate its operations from its corporate parent, banning Huawei employees from its offices and moving Futurewei employees onto a new IT system. 

Katz told The Daily that UC Berkeley decided to allow faculty collaborations with Futurewei after verifying with the Department of Commerce that the company is not an entity on the Denied Entity list. Given that Futurewei was not implicated in the federal indictments against Huawei earlier this year, Katz saw no basis for maintaining a moratorium on Futurewei funding.

The federal government has not objected to Berkeley’s decision, according to Katz. 

However, Moler told The Daily that Stanford has concluded that “most of the risks associated with Huawei apply also to Futurewei.” The Global Engagement Review Program is set to review any potential distinctions between Huawei and Futurewei in the coming months.

A previous version of this post misspelled Joyce Farrell’s name and incorrectly characterized Farrell’s recollection of the October Committee on Research meeting. The Daily regrets these errors.

Contact Berber Jin at fjin16 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Berber Jin is a senior history major and desk editor for the university beat at the Daily. He enjoys covering university China policy and technology ethics, and is currently writing an honors thesis on the Caribbean anti-colonialist George Padmore. He is originally from New York, NY.