Huawei Enlisted Entire Nortel Team for 5G, Team Leader Now a Royal Society of Canada Fellow

by EditorK

A Chinese telecom giant Huawei shop featuring 5G products in Beijing in May 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)

Andrew Chen

By Andrew Chen

When Canada’s Nortel Networks went bankrupt in 2009, China’s Huawei recruited an entire Nortel team to its Canadian arm to advance its 5G networks development. As Canada banned Huawei in its 5G network in 2022 over security concerns, the former Nortel team leader became a Royal Society of Canada fellow that same year.

Wen Tong, the established engineer who brought his Nortel team with him to join Huawei Canada in 2009, currently leads the Chinese telecom giant’s 5G wireless technologies research.

Nortel was once a world-leading telecom company and the crown jewel of Canada’s high-tech industry for decades, before filing for bankruptcy protection in January 2009. Brian Shields, a former senior security adviser at the company, attributed its collapse partially to intellectual property theft by Chinese hackers in a previous interview with NTD Television Network, a sister company of The Epoch Times.

In line with allies’ security concerns about the Chinese company, Canada banned Huawei from its 5G wireless infrastructure and network development in 2022. In the same year, the Royal Society of Canada named Mr. Tong as a fellow, recognizing his contributions to wireless communications systems and mobile networks.

The Royal Society of Canada is a national academy that highlights exceptional achievements by Canadians in the arts, humanities, and sciences. It currently has over 2,500 fellows.

Mr. Tong is also a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), among other recognitions. Mr. Tong’s IEEE profile says he was head of Nortel’s Network Technology Labs before joining Huawei. Prior to that, he worked at Bell Northern Research’s Wireless Technology Labs, starting in 1995.

‘In Charge of 5G’

“In 2009, Tong Wen brought his original team from Nortel Networks to join Huawei,” stated an Oct. 12, 2019 Chinese-language article published in the Beijing-based magazine, Scientific Chinese.

Mr. Tong told the magazine he chose Huawei because “this [bringing the whole team with him] would have been difficult to do in another company.”

“In addition, throughout the entire 5G research and development process, as the technical lead, I had almost complete control over technical decisions. This provided the most ideal environment for pursuing my career,” he added.

The Scientific Chinese article also quoted unnamed senior Huawei employees saying that “one of the key reasons for Huawei’s rise was the trust that Ren Zhengfei [Huawei’s founder and CEO] placed in scientists like Tong Wen.”

“Huawei gave Wen Tong great authority and status—he leads Huawei’s global research, innovation, and standards efforts. This effectively put him in charge of 5G technology research, development, and innovation,” the article reads.

Mr. Ren, a former Chinese military officer, is the father of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive central to the diplomatic rift between Canada and the Chinese regime a few years ago.

Canada arrested Ms. Meng in Vancouver in December 2018 in response to a U.S. extradition request over allegations that she tried to evade U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. Beijing detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor a few days later in what was widely seen as retaliation.

The Epoch Times reached out to both Mr. Tong and the Royal Society of Canada but didn’t hear back.

China’s Economic Espionage and Nortel’s Demise

Once a leading player in Canada’s high-tech industry, Nortel saw its demise in the late 2000s, around the same time that Huawei was expanding its market in the West.

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former chief of Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) Asia-Pacific unit, said in a 2020 interview with BNN Bloomberg that CSIS had warned Nortel executives about Chinese hackers “sucking your intellectual property out.” Despite these alerts, Nortel’s response was inadequate, he said.

Similarly, Mr. Shields told NTD that he first became aware of Chinese hacking activities against Nortel in 2004, which persisted until his departure from the company in 2009.

He said that initially, hackers exploited Nortel senior executives’ accounts to access files. Then, upon detection, the hackers changed their methods, using the accounts of employees based in China instead, as Nortel had operations there. Noting that the hacking operation was both very organized and very advanced, Mr. Shields said it was clear to him that the state was behind it.

Mr. Shields also said that Huawei was the main benefactor of the demise of Nortel. While providing no proof that Huawei received the data, he raised the question: “Where was the manufacturer that was reaping the benefits of this? Was it the companies in Russia or France that were suddenly doing real good? No.”

Mr. Ren has denied Huawei’s involvement in the collapse of Nortel in various interviews with both Chinese and foreign media, including Ming Pao and The Globe and Mail. The Epoch Times reached out to Huawei Canada for comment but didn’t hear back by publication time.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has said that Huawei supports “intellectual property theft.”

In a 2020 publication, the U.S. State Department said Huawei “actively supports authoritarian regimes, intellectual property theft, and surveillance used to control China’s population and repress minorities.”

The department added that Beijing supported Huawei’s expansion in foreign markets to “achieve global dominance” through the use of its state-backed banks, providing tens of billions of dollars in subsidized financing to the telecom giant.

Similar to what’s required of every company in China, Huawei could be required to cooperate with the regime’s requests under its National Intelligence Law and Cybersecurity Law to release sensitive client data and to include a branch of the Chinese Communist Party in its corporate structure, the State Department added.

Huawei has also faced lawsuits over intellectual property theft filed by Motorola, Cisco Systems, Quintel Technology Ltd., and others. Huawei denied these allegations as well and eventually settled some of the cases.

The U.S. Department of Justice in 2019 unsealed two indictments against Huawei, Ms. Meng, and several of the company’s subsidiaries in two legal cases accusing the company of violating sanctions against Iran and stealing trade secrets from U.S. mobile carrier T-Mobile.

Concerns have also been raised about Huawei over Mr. Ren’s connections to the Chinese military.

“Huawei has a very dubious past, starting with its founder who is a former military officer,” Mr. Juneau-Katsuya told The Epoch Times in a previous interview. Before establishing Huawei, Mr. Ren served as a director in the People’s Liberation Army, the military arm of the Chinese Communist Party.


The United States, Australia, Britain, and a number of other European countries have long had sanctions imposed on Huawei to block or restrict the use of the company’s equipment from those countries’ 5G networks over security concerns.

Following years of indecision on whether to follow its allies on this issue, in 2022 Ottawa banned Huawei along with another Chinese company, ZTE, from Canada’s 5G and 4G infrastructure.

“The Government of Canada has serious concerns about suppliers such as Huawei and ZTE who could be compelled to comply with extrajudicial directions from foreign governments in ways that would conflict with Canadian laws or would be detrimental to Canadian interests,” Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said in a statement in May 2020.

Andrew Chen is a news reporter with the Canadian edition of The Epoch Times.

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