Huawei announces rival open source foundation

Read time 3min 20sec

China’s Huawei Technologies is not taking its blacklisting by the United States lying down. The company has followed up on the recent announcement of its Android rival – HarmonyOS – with news that it is to launch China’s first open source foundation.

This follows an acknowledgement from GitHub, the world’s largest open source code host, that it has to prevent users in nations sanctioned by the US government – potentially including China as well as Iran and Crimea – from accessing portions of its service.

China Daily quotes Wang Chenglu, who heads software development at Huawei’s consumer business group, as saying that software development relies on open source codes and communities.

In an indirect reference to US president Donald Trump’s May executive order which sanctioned Huawei, Wang noted: “If China does not have its own open source community to maintain, manage and host these open source codes, the domestic (Chinese) software industry will be vulnerable in the face of uncontrollable factors.”

In July, GitHub’s CEO, Nat Friedman, tweeted: “It is painful for me to hear how trade restrictions have hurt people. We have gone to great lengths to do no more than what is required by the law, but of course, people are still affected. GitHub is subject to US trade law, just like any other company that does business in the US.

"We're not doing this because we want to; we're doing it because we have to."

This reportedly resulted in GitHub preventing users in sanctioned countries like Iran, Syria and Crimea from accessing private repositories and the GitHub Marketplace, as well as from maintaining private, paid organisation accounts.

While it is not yet clear whether Huawei or any other Chinese organisation has been impacted by GitHub’s actions, Wang lamented that although it had long been the de facto open source position that open source communities were supposed to be fair and equitable for all, the American  position, and GitHub’s compliance with its government’s dictates, meant that open source had become a pawn in the power play between countries.

Open source has become a pawn in the power play between countries.

Wang Chenglu, Huawei’s consumer business group

Wang’s view was echoed by Xiang Ligang, director general of the Beijing-based  telecom industry association Information Consumption Alliance, who told China Daily that what GitHub had done to Iranian users was a warning to Chinese professionals that heavy reliance on US-led open source communities may carry risks.

Xiang said Huawei’s leadership of the new open source foundation, which is expected to start operations within the next few months, would help to “build China’s software developer ecosystem and complete industry chain for the electronic information industry, rather than just launch its OS.”

While HarmonyOS is an open source system, it is unlikely that it will be able to grow or even come close to being a viable alternative to Android, without the support of most companies and developers.

In a statement issued at the time of its blacklisting in May, Huawei – which has strongly denied allegations that it was using its technology to spy on the US for the Chinese government, as claimed by president Trump – warned that the move was in no one’s interest.

“It will do significant economic harm to the American companies with which Huawei does business, affect tens of thousands of American jobs and disrupt the current collaboration and mutual trust that exist on the global supply chain.” The company added that it would 'immediately seek remedies against the decision and find a resolution'.

The launch of its own open source foundation could be seen as one such action.   

See also