A Huawei Technologies booth at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, earlier this year.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Update: In reversal, science publisher IEEE drops ban on using Huawei scientists as reviewers

*Update, 3 June, 12:15 p.m.: On 2 June, IEEE lifted its ban on using Huawei scientists as journal reviewers, saying it had received “clarification” from the U.S. Department of Commerce on how the government’s recent actions against the company affect its peer-review process.

Here is our original story from 29 May:

A major scientific society has banned employees of Huawei, the Chinese communications giant, from reviewing submissions to its journals because of U.S. government sanctions against the company.

The New York City–based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) told editors of its roughly 200 journals yesterday that it feared “severe legal implications” from continuing to use Huawei scientists as reviewers in vetting technical papers. They can continue to serve on IEEE editorial boards, according to the memo, but “cannot handle any papers” until the sanctions are lifted.

On 15 May, the U.S. Department of Commerce added Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and its affiliates to a list of companies for which a license is required before U.S. technology can be sold or transferred. The department can refuse to grant such a license, issued by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), if it deems that any sales or transfers would harm U.S. national security interests. U.S. officials have alleged that the Chinese government could use equipment manufactured by Huawei, which is a global supplier of cell phones and wireless data networks, to spy on users or disrupt critical infrastructure.

Huawei scientists can continue to engage in a range of society activities, explains a 22 May IEEE statement to members. They can attend IEEE-sponsored conferences and make presentations, submit articles to IEEE journals, and participate in leadership and governance bodies to which they belong.

What they can’t do as an employee of a company on the BIS entity list is be given access to the type of technical information that would be part of a research article. Specifically, IEEE says they “cannot receive or access materials submitted by other persons until after IEE has accepted the material for publication.” At that point, Huawei scientists “may act as editor or peer reviewer for that material.”

The IEEE ban has sparked outrage among Chinese scientists on social media. “I joined IEEE as a Ph.D. student because it is recognized as an International academic platform in electronics engineering,” wrote Haixia (Alice) Zhang of Peking University in Beijing in a letter to IEEE leadership. “But this message is challenging my professional integrity. I have decided to quit the editorial boards [of two IEEE journals] until it restores our common professional integrity.”

On 29 May IEEE “clarified” its response to the listing of Huawei. Here are excerpts from that statement:

IEEE complies with U.S. government regulations which restrict the ability of the listed Huawei companies and their employees to participate in certain activities that are not generally open to the public. This includes certain aspects of the publication peer review and editorial process.

However, all IEEE members, including those employed by Huawei, can continue to participate in individual membership, corporate membership and voting rights; subscribe to and access IEEE’s digital library and other publication products; submit technical papers for publication; participate in and present at IEEE-sponsored meetings and conferences, and may sponsor and accept an IEEE award. Members affiliated with Huawei may also participate in business, logistics, and other meetings including those related to conference planning.

Huawei and its employees can continue to be a member of the IEEE Standards Association, including earning or exercising the voting rights of membership; attend IEEE standards development meetings, submit new proposals for standards, and participate and comment in public discussions of standards technology proposals.

Should the U.S. government clarify the application of the EAR [Export Administration Regulations] with respect to peer review we will further advise the IEEE community.

*Update, 30 May, 9:03 a.m.: This story has been updated with a statement from IEEE.