HONG KONG, June 28 (Reuters) - The chairman of China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd has hit back at several U.S. lawmakers who claimed the firm's research funding to over 50 American universities posed a "significant threat" to national security.
Huawei is the world's largest maker of telecommunication network equipment and third-largest smartphone maker. It is a private company but has found itself battling perceptions of ties to the Chinese government, which it has repeatedly denied.
Last week, U.S. congressmen Marco Rubio and Jim Banks wrote a bipartisan open letter about Huawei on behalf of 24 Democratic and Republican lawmakers to education secretary Betsy DeVos. In the letter, they said the Huawei Innovation Research Programme posed a "significant threat to national security" by allowing China to effectively lift research from the United States.
The lawmakers said such programmes were a core part of "China's toolkit for foreign technology acquisition".
In response, Eric Xu, Huawei's rotating chairman, called Rubio and Banks "closed-minded and ill-informed".
"It seems that their bodies are in the information age but their minds are still in the agrarian age," said Xu, according to a transcript of Xu's remarks made late on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai.
"Their behaviour shows not just an ignorance of how science and innovation works today, but also their own lack of confidence" in the U.S.' competitiveness, he said, in the transcript provided by Huawei.
The U.S. lawmakers, who did not call for an end to such research funding, asked the education secretary to investigate how China attempts to gather technology from U.S. campuses so as to protect the country's technology advantage.
The letter represents the latest difficulty Huawei has faced operating in the United States. Last week, some Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers, including Rubio, asked Alphabet Inc's Google to reconsider working with Huawei, which they described as a security threat.
Earlier this year, a deal with U.S. telecom firm AT&T Inc to sell its smartphones in the United States collapsed at the 11th hour due to security concerns.
The company has come under similar scrutiny elsewhere. Earlier this month, Huawei Australia's chairman, John Lord, penned a public letter refuting Australian claims that the firm posed a risk, as Australia is likely to ban Huawei from participating in the country's introduction of fifth-generation mobile telecommunications due to security fears.
On Wednesday, Lord said banning Huawei would be "a great policy failure" for Australia as accusations of Chinese government interference were groundless.
Reporting by Sijia Jiang; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Christopher Cushing