WARSAW – The authorities in Poland and the United States are exploring the deep ties that Beijing has devised in this strategically important country on the eastern border of NATO after the arrests of a Chinese contractor and a former Polish official.
Wang Weijing, who worked in Poland for Huawei Technologies Co., and Piotr Durbajlo, a former senior Polish counterintelligence officer, were detained this month and accused of espionage for China. Mr. Wang, who was fired by Huawei after his arrest, issued a statement last July, rejecting all charges. Neither Mr Dorbaylo nor his lawyer could be found for comment.
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Part of the investigation – which officials said Poland was coordinating with the United States – includes events at the elite Military Technology University of the country, whose graduates often continue to deal with sensitive security and military work. Mr. Durballo was an instructor at the university. Wang has visited the university along with a Huawei-led competition called "Seeds of the Future," according to the University. In recent years, students have been among the winners of the competition, which offers paid travel to China, including a week at the company headquarters in Shenzhen.
The investigation – which officials say has been going on for at least two years – forces the Polish authorities to consider whether China's growing presence has left the country vulnerable to security and intelligence violations. According to some estimates, Huawei has nearly 50% of the Polish telecommunication infrastructure market.
"The Chinese have been very active for years," a senior MP from Poland, who was informed of the investigation, said. "To give them so much freedom, so much room to maneuver is too much."
One fear among Polish and US officials is that China can access Allied intelligence shared with Poland and hand them over to Moscow. Poland urges NATO allies to coordinate their response to the cyber-security challenges posed by the Chinese company. Dan Worth of the WSJ explains why it threatens the key market for Huawei. Photo: Reuters
Senior US officials say they are exploring how to abolish the deep involvement of Chinese companies like Huawei in the economies and infrastructure of Poland and other European countries.
"We understand how to handle this," said a senior US official with detailed knowledge of the region. Broader telecom infrastructure is at risk "now that some countries have been infected".
The United States has long argued that Huawei acts as a Trojan horse for the Chinese government. A senior US security official said Chinese law requires authorities secretly to access information or data from companies that are there. Poland was once part of the same Communist world as China. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland joined the major Western institutions, such as the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The Polish government has tried to attract Chinese investment in recent years. Warsaw upheld the investigation of Mr Wang and Durbaylo, classified in part for fear of provoking Chinese revenge, the Polish legislature said. But the process, he added, will inevitably attract attention to the case.
"The whole world will observe this because there were rumors about Huawei's activities, but never any evidence, at least American authorities have never presented such.
A train arrived in Warsaw from Chengdu, China, in 2016.
The Polish authorities are now trying to find out who people who have held sensitive government positions can have links with China, the MP said.
And the Polish counter-intelligence looks at some of the state institutions for which Durbaylo works.
In addition to serving as a lecturer in cryptology at the military academy, Mr. Durbaylo occupies senior positions in the Polish Internal Security Service and the agency that monitors classified government communications as well as the cyber security authority in Poland working on Various Government Opportunities until 2017. After his arrest he was removed from work in
the French telecom operator, which serves about a quarter of Polish mobile phone subscribers.
A former Huawei employee pointed out Mr. Wang, who spoke perfectly Polish, as quiet and polite. Mr. Wang attended meetings at the Polish Military University to discuss Huawei's cooperation and to advertise the Seeds for the Future competition of employees there, according to university press releases.
Recent arrests come when Poland is disappointed by China as an economic partner, said Witold Watschakovsky, a former Polish foreign minister and one of the architects of the efforts to strengthen economic ties. Warsaw airport and high-speed train lines did not materialize, he said. "Now trade is on the rise, but there are no [Chinese] investments," said Mr. Waszczykowski.
The most sensitive US project in Poland is a missile base that must be operational by 2020 as part of NATO's Nuclear Shield. protection against potential attacks from Iran, but Russia said it was really aimed at counteracting Moscow. All intelligence on the base will be of great help to Beijing, said Fabrys Potier, a former senior assistant to two NATO chiefs.
"Because of relations with the United States and NATO and EU membership, we are an important goal," said Krzysztof Lidel, former director of the National Security Bureau, one of Poland's security and defense agencies. "We are the gateway to gather information and data about our allies."
– Natalia Oyevska, Dustin Vols and Drew Hinshov contributed to this article. Boyd Panchevski at firstname.lastname@example.org and Matthew Dalton of Matthew.Dalton@wsj.com
Send to Boyan Panchevsky at email@example.com and Matthew Dalton from Matthew.Dalton@wsj.com Corrections and reinforcements
Witold Watschikovski is a former foreign minister of Poland. An earlier version of this article misspelled its last name. (January 24, 2019)