UK Prime Minister Theresa May has signed off on letting Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei help build “non-core” parts of the country’s 5G infrastructure, including antennas and other network components, according to The Telegraph. The decision was made today by the National Security Council, of which May is the chair, and has drawn considerable criticism from other UK politicians who fear Huawei’s supposed ties to the Chinese government may open British citizens, companies, and government agencies to cyberattacks and other forms of espionage.
GCQQ head Jeremy Fleming, who has warned against cyberthreats from China and Russia in the past, is said to have given a speech in Glasgow, Scotland today to members of the intelligence agencies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US warning against such threats from foreign adversaries, according to The Telegraph. Other members of GCHQ have expressed concern over use of Chinese telecommunications providers. But the organization’s official position appears to be that the threats can be managed and minimizeddue in part to Huawei’s involvement centering on “non-core” network infrastructure.
The decision is a notable departure from other members of the very alliance Fleming is said to have addressed today. The Trump administration has tried pressuring allies to stop using Huawei equipment after banning domestic government agencies and contractors from using the Chinese companies’ products in official work capacities. Australia and New Zealand have both banned Huawei products from working on domestic telecom infrastructure projects in the respective countries, while New Zealand has gone so far as to prevent a domestic company from using Huawei equipment as part of its country-wide 5G rollout.
The White House was mulling over an executive order that would do the same as of December of last year. When Trump announced a new 5G spectrum auction earlier this month, he was silent on the administration’s position on imposing a trade ban on Chinese telecom equipment, but it is reportedly still on the table.
As is the case with most Chinese companies, Huawei denies any involvement with its country’s government and claims the reach of the PRC does not extend beyond China’s borders. However, there is ample evidence that China, alongside Russia and Iran, have spent years reportedly attacking foreign military and corporate infrastructure to steal trade secrets and to spy on competing country’s national and business-related efforts. As a result, the specter of the Chinese government has hung over almost all dealings with the country’s biggest players, including entertainment and social network behemoth Tencent, search engine Baidu, consumer electronics giant Xiaomi, and massive telecom component suppliers like Huawei and ZTE.
Nonetheless, Huawei is fighting the US government ban on its products in court by attempting to prove the ban is unconstitutional. When contacted by The Verge last month, a number of US security experts and policymakers weighed in on whether Huawei posed a national security risk if it were to participate in the country’s 5G infrastructure expansion.
“Huawei is a Chinese state-directed telecom company with a singular goal: undermine foreign competition by stealing trade secrets and intellectual property, and through artificially low prices backed by the Chinese government,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told The Verge. “The Communist Chinese government poses the greatest, long-term threat to America’s national and economic security, and the US must be vigilant in preventing Chinese state-directed telecoms companies, like Huawei and ZTE, from undermining and endangering America’s 5G networks.”
Similarly, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said, “There is ample evidence to suggest that no major Chinese company is independent of the Chinese government and Communist Party — and Huawei, which China’s government and military tout as a ‘national champion,’ is no exception.” Warner thinks allowing Huawei to contribute to the US’s 5G infrastructure “could seriously jeopardize our national security and put critical supply chains at risk.”
Security, legal, and policy experts polled by The Verge were less outright critical of Huawei and its potential involvement with the Chinese government and voiced concern about the lack of evidence. But some, like Syracuse University Professor William Synder and OpenVPN CEO Francis Dinha, said it’s reasonable to consider Huawei a threat considering the future implications of 5G networks that are built with inherent vulnerabilities. “Even if Huawei is not committing the sort of crimes for which a US grand jury indicted it, any company that supplies such a large percentage of the market for components of telecommunications networks and has such ties to the People’s Liberation Army is a threat,” Synder writes.