The USA isn’t letting up in its ongoing attack on Chinese telecom vendor Huawei, and the UK’s moves to allow Huawei to participate in parts of the country’s 5G build has seen tensions rise even further.
US president Donald Trump’s chief of staff is set to meet with his UK counterpart (PM Johnson’s chief aide) this Wednesday, and it is widely expected that he will demand that the UK reconsider its decision to allow Huawei to supply 5G technology in the UK.
The Guardian reports that the meeting comes as speculation that the White House wants the UK to commit to removing the Chinese company from British mobile phone networks in three to five years’ time.
The Whitehoue has previously indicated – via a number of channels, including its State Department-run propaganda machine – that the US will reconsider security and information sharing arrangements with countries that allow Huawei into its 5G product mix, citing security concerns.
. @realDonaldTrump just called me from AF1 and instructed me to make clear that any nation who chooses to use an untrustworthy 5G vendor will jeopardize our ability to share Intelligence and information at the highest level.
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) February 16, 2020
The US ambassador to Germany tweeted along these same lines during the week, stating that he had been instructed “to make clear that any nation who chooses to use an untrustworthy 5G vendor will jeopardize our ability to share intelligence and information at the highest level”.
President Trump isn’t the only one upping pressure on the UK’s leadership over its concerns about Huawei; backbench conservatives within Johnson’s own party want him to commit to remove all Huawei kit from British phone networks over time – that same group is threatening to vote against related legislation if the prime minister does not back down.
The problem is an interesting one from many angles. For starters, the US has provided its partners (and the public) with little evidence to support its claims about the risk posed by Huawei. In the UK especially, the country’s own spy agencies – including the powerful GCHQ – have long advised that any risk posed by Huawei can be contained. Lastly, the company already supplies equipment for a number of 3G and 4G networks, with a market share of around 35%.
As it stands, the UK plan is to allow Huawei to participate – alongside other vendors – provided that it sticks to a cap of supplying 35% or less overall equipment for the country’s four mobile operators – Vodafone, O2, EE and Three. Eliminating Huawei altogether would cost hundreds of millions, and would delay 5G by years.
At least the conversation is being had in the UK. Australia’s position remains clear – Huawei cannot participate in 5G in any meaningful way whatsoever, and there’s no dialog being entered into.