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After more than 25 years in politics, Wayne Easter is well acquainted with political reporters on Parliament Hill.
And so it was likely no accident that Easter’s recent criticism of a federal research partnership with Chinese telecom giant Huawei caught the attention of Robert Fife and Steven Chase, two prominent political reporters with the Globe and Mail.
In a story published by the Globe on Tuesday, Easter, the MP for Malpeque, P.E.I., said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has advised universities against collaboration with Huawei, which is believed to have close ties to the Chinese government.
Easter said the research partnership with Huawei could pose a risk to Canadian security.
“I was maybe a little aggressive in my comments. But that's fine, that goes with the territory," Easter told The Guardian on Thursday.
The federal National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) is currently partnering with Huawei to fund computer and electrical engineering research projects.
The partnership would involve Canadian universities. The Globe has reported NSERC is providing $4.8 million for the partnership.
Easter said intelligence agencies in other countries, including the rest of the “five eyes” – an intelligence collaboration involving Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. – have barred the use of Huawei technology in its 5G networks.
"Huawei has managed to get into some university research programming through some national agencies,” Easter said.
“Look, the rest of our five eye partners are turning away from using Huawei. And we had better give some serious thought to that approach as well."
Security officials have been concerned for years that Huawei phones and equipment could be used for espionage. The company’s ties to the Chinese government have also faced scrutiny.
Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou was detained in 2018 in Richmond, B.C. She is currently fighting an extradition order to the U.S. related to fraud and conspiracy charges.
Easter said he is not the only member of the Liberal caucus who has concerns about the NSERC-Huawei partnership or about Canada’s ties to China.
The federal standing committee on finance, which Easter chairs, also recommended Canada withdraw from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
The recommendation was one of 145 recommendations included in a recent report to the federal government.
The bank provides funding for infrastructure projects in many countries. France, Australia and Germany are also members, as is China.
The federal Conservatives have taken a strong stance on the AIIB and have argued the Bank is being used to spread China’s economic influence in the South.
“There is mixed views on that," Easter said of the AIIB recommendation in the finance committee report.
"Its whole purpose in the beginning was to assist in economic development through infrastructure financing in Asia as a whole."
But Easter acknowledged China has significant influence over the AIIB.
“There is a view that it is using its influence for geopolitical purposes," Easter said.
The committee’s recommendations come as Parliamentarians faced a vote on a motion to declare China’s persecution of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang as a genocide.
The vote, introduced by the Federal Conservatives, was expected to be debated on Monday.
Amnesty International has said the Chinese government is detaining up to one million members of the Muslim minority in transformation-through-education camps.
The human rights group claims the camps are part of an effort to “wipe out religious beliefs” of the Uyghur population.
Stu Neatby is The Guardian's political reporter