A man in dark profile walks past Huawei advertising outside a store in Beijing on January 29, 2019.

Credit: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty

The University of California, Berkeley, will not enter into new research collaborations with the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, after the US Department of Justice brought criminal charges against the company on 28 January.

The University of Texas at Austin has also confirmed to Nature that it is reviewing its relationship with the company — which is a major investor in research worldwide.

The move comes two weeks after the University of Oxford, UK, said that it would stop seeking new funding from the firm, citing “public concerns raised in recent months surrounding UK partnerships”.

Since late 2018, Huawei — a major electronics manufacturer headquartered in Shenzhen, China — has been under mounting scrutiny from international governments. Several countries have raised security concerns over its devices and the company’s involvement in developing their telecommunications networks.

The US charges against Huawei include theft of trade secrets, violations of economic sanctions, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

In a statement published on its website, Huawei said it was “disappointed” to learn of the indictment, which includes individual charges against the firm’s chief financial officer, Wanzhou Meng. It added: “The Company denies that it or its subsidiary or affiliate have committed any of the asserted violations of U.S. law set forth in each of the indictments, is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng, and believes the U.S. courts will ultimately reach the same conclusion.” (Huawei did not respond to Nature’s request for comment.)

Source: Scopus

Big spender

Huawei says that it spent 90 billion yuan (US$13.3 billion) on research and development in 2017, including through partnerships with dozens of universities across the world (see ‘Huawei-funded research’).

In a letter to senior staff on 30 January, seen by Nature, Berkeley’s vice-chancellor for research, Randy Katz, said that, effective immediately, the university would not enter into or discuss new research collaborations with Huawei, or seek or accept new research gifts from the firm, pending a ruling on the charges.

“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,” Katz said in the letter.

Huawei and a US subsidiary, FutureWei, contribute to five research programmes at UC Berkeley, amounting to about US$7.8 million in funding over the past 2 years, said a spokesperson. The moratorium does not apply to existing agreements for research already under way, Katz wrote.

UC Berkeley said that none of the work involves sensitive technological secrets or knowledge, and it does not grant the firm unique or exclusive rights to intellectual property from the research. As with all research at the university since the 1930s, the results are shared openly, added the spokesperson.

The University of Texas at Austin — where Huawei has supported several research projects — said that the institution already treats Huawei as a ‘sensitive entity’. The label means that the firm poses information-security and export risks, and that special guidelines govern researchers’ interactions with the firm.

A spokesperson said that the university will decide how to move forward as quickly as possible.