British Prime Minister Theresa May is being urged by members of her own party and senior intelligence officials to reverse a provisional decision to allow the Chinese technology giant Huawei a role in building parts of Britain’s 5G mobile network.
They fear giving Huawei even a limited role in developing the country’s fifth-generation wireless network risks imperiling Britain’s participation in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing arrangement, the U.S.-led Anglophone intelligence pact linking Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain.
The lobbying for a reversal of the decision is likely to intensify following the publication this week of a report co-authored by a Conservative lawmaker and a former British security adviser that argues, despite Beijing denials, that Huawei is ultimately owned by an entity answerable to the “Chinese party-state apparatus.”
The report by the London-based Henry Jackson Society says allowing the company access to Britain’s next-generation mobile-phone network would compromise security. According to the report, Huawei is 99 percent owned by the Huawei Investment and Holding Trade Union Committee, part of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, a state body.
Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have urged all Western allies to shun Huawei on security grounds, fearing the Chinese telecoms giant will act as a Trojan horse for China’s espionage agencies, allowing them to sweep up data and gather intelligence.
In February, Pompeo warned, “If a country adopts this [Huawei] and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them, we won’t be able to work alongside them.” A U.S. State Department has been sent from Washington to brief British ministers Monday in more detail about American security concerns.
Last week, it emerged from leaks that Prime Minister May had decided during a meeting of the country’s National Security Council to allow Huawei to build some so-called “non-core” parts of Britain’s 5G data network. Her decision came despite the disapproval of some intelligence chiefs and the country’s defense and foreign secretaries, Gavin Williamson and Jeremy Hunt, who both fear serious impact on Anglo-American relations.
The U.S. National Security Agency has warned that approving Huawei’s involvement risks handing China a “loaded gun.” A White House official told VOA the issue will likely be raised during U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain in June.
Australia and New Zealand have decided to block or heavily restrict Huawei’s involvement in the development of their 5G networks. Huawei denies being controlled by the Chinese government and says its equipment can’t be used for espionage purposes. And the Chinese ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, said Sunday the company has a “good track record” on security.
He argued in an article written for Britain’s Sunday Telegraph that any blocking of Huawei would be discriminatory and protectionist. “The last thing China expects from a truly open and fair ‘global Britain’ is a playing field that is not level,” he wrote.
The envoy urged Britain to ignore U.S. warnings.
May’s decision has been dubbed naive by some senior members of her ruling Conservative party. Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the British parliament’s foreign affairs panel, has warned that allowing Huawei to build some of the 5G infrastructure will “cause allies to doubt our ability to keep data secure” and erode the trust underpinning “Five Eyes.”
British government officials say under the provisional plan Huawei’s participation would be restricted to building transmission equipment, including rooftop aerials and base stations, and wouldn’t involve anything to do with core infrastructure, where billing and customer details are stored. Some British cyber-security officials say this would be sufficient to mitigate any security risks; others say the distinction is manginess.
The dispute over Huawei is playing out during a visit to China by Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who’s hoping to expand economic ties with China ready for when Britain leaves the European Union.
In Beijing Friday, Hammond praised the “truly epic ambition” of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive trillion-dollar trade, investment and infrastructure program launched in 2015 to spur trade along land and sea routes linking Asia, Africa and Europe.
Some observers suggest Theresa May’s Huawei decision should be seen in the light of Britain’s search for post-Brexit deals to replace the expected losses resulting from the country’s departure from the European Union. British government officials say there’s no connection.