U.K. feels last-minute heat from the U.S. over a key 5G decision
During 2018, the U.S. warned its allies not to use Huawei networking gear for their 5G networks. Even though the Chinese manufacturer is the largest provider of networking equipment worldwide, the U.S. considers it to be a national security threat. That's because of a law in China that allows the government to demand that the company gather intelligence on its behalf; this has led many U.S. lawmakers to state that Huawei's devices contain a back door that sends this information to Beijing. We should point out that Huawei has constantly denied these allegations and no back door has ever been found.
Reuters reports that the U.S. is making a last bid effort to get the U.K. to join the ban. Tomorrow, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to meet with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and the topic of Huawei is expected to come up. The U.S. was also planning to send a delegation that included deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger to Britain this week to discuss the use of the manufacturer's networking equipment. But bad weather forced the cancellation of the trip.Despite pressure from the U.S., not all of America's allies felt that they needed to ban Huawei equipment from their 5G networks. Those that heeded the U.S. warning include Australia and Japan. Germany refused to knuckle under from U.S. pressure and decided to allow Huawei to help it build the country's 5G network. And with a final decision expected by the U.K. soon,
U.S. law says intelligence agencies must consider whether a country uses Huawei networking gear before agreeing to share intelligence with it
Britain has a much cozier relationship with China than the U.S. does, especially with the latter two countries enmeshed in a trade war. In addition, a Huawei spokesman said that the company was told by U.K. lawmakers that its networking gear would not be used in networks earmarked for intelligence use. The Huawei spokesman added, "Our 5G equipment does not pose a threat to information security. We are confident the UK government will take an evidence-based approach when making its decision about Huawei’s inclusion in the 5G network."
The U.S. is so serious about getting its allies to back off the use of Huawei networking gear that it passed a law that threatens to restrict the sharing of intelligence with countries that allow the use of Huawei's equipment for their 5G networks. Part of the U.S. 2020 defense spending law states that U.S. intelligence agencies must consider whether a country uses telecom and cybersecurity equipment "provided by adversaries of the United States, particularly China and Russia," before agreeing to an intelligence-sharing deal with it. Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who added the above provision to the defense spending bill, is reportedly working on a new draft bill that would "significantly restrict" intelligence-sharing with countries that use Huawei equipment in their 5G networks. The senator told Reuters that "I’m profoundly concerned about the possibility that close allies, including the U.K., might permit the Chinese Communist Party effectively to build their highly sensitive 5G infrastructure."
Speaking about the U.S., one person familiar with Britain's position on Huawei says that Washington acts as though it is "cocking the pistol." He continues on to note, "What’s unclear is how, when or indeed if it will actually be fired." Meanwhile, a spokesman for the U.K. says, "The security and resilience of the UK’s telecom networks is of paramount importance. The government continues to consider its position on high-risk vendors and a decision will be made in due course." Last year, Britain decided to ban the use of Huawei's equipment from the important parts of its 5G network, limiting its use to parts deemed to be less critical; however, it is important to note than no final decision has been made. Whatever Britain decides, the sharing of intelligence between these two long-time allies is at stake.