US Push to Ban Huawei in UK a Hint for What Canada Can Expect

January 22, 2020 Updated: January 22, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

As the extradition hearing for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou continues in Vancouver, 11th-hour efforts by U.S. officials to urge the U.K. not to include Huawei in the country’s 5G network offers a glimpse of what Canada can expect from Washington when Ottawa makes its decision on the issue.

British media reported this week that U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Woody Johnson got in a row with British officials, with a heated exchange on the issue extending to the lobby of 10 Downing Street.

“The Ambassador became involved in what we could refer to as a pretty heated exchange. He was emphatic in trying to get the U.S.’s real concern across,” the Daily Express quoted a source as saying.

Last year, the ambassador said that giving Huawei access to the U.K.’s 5G network is like “letting a kleptomaniac into your house, and then you’ve got to hire three people to follow them around all day.”

The British government is expected to decide on whether to allow Huawei to participate in the nation’s 5G this month. Last week, a U.S. delegation met with British officials, presenting technical information to challenge an assessment by the British agency in charge of cyber security that it’d be possible to use Huawei and control the risks, BBC reported.

Senior officials from U.K. spy agency Government Communications Headquarters, commonly known as the GCHQ, remain concerned about Huawei’s presence in the country’s 5G. This week, a Times report cited a source at the agency saying letting the Chinese telecom giant in the network is like “letting a fox loose in a chicken coop.”

The Trump administration has warned its allies, including Canada, the U.K., and Germany, that it may limit intelligence sharing with them if they allow Huawei to participate in their 5G networks, due to concerns that U.S. data could be jeopardized by the company, which has close links to the Beijing regime.

Under Chinese law, all Chinese companies are obligated to help the regime in intelligence work if required. Huawei was founded by a former officer with the People’s Liberation Army. Since Canada’s arrest of Meng on a U.S. extradition request in December 2018, Beijing has issued stern demands for her release, arrested Canadian citizens, and blocked Canadian imports.

Australia, the United States, and New Zealand, all Canada and U.K. allies in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, have banned Huawei from their 5G networks.

U.S. Congressman Jim Banks introduced a bill this week that would ban the United States from sharing intelligence with any country that allows Huawei to be part of its 5G network.

“If China doesn’t respect the human rights of [its] own people, why would we think that they would respect the human rights or the privacy of Americans or any European country that would choose to operate using technologies from companies like Huawei or ZTE?” Banks told The Epoch Times in a previous interview.

Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has said that Ottawa would consider geopolitical concerns in making its decision on the issue.  A spokesperson for Blair said in an emailed statement that “an examination of emerging 5G technology and the associated security and economic considerations is underway,” and the ministry is “taking all scientific and security factors into account, including those from our Allies and our security agencies.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he doesn’t want to jeopardize national security or relations with Five Eyes allies and has asked critics to suggest alternative providers of 5G technology.

Rebuking Washington’s push to shun Huawei, the company’s executives have expressed that the United States will fall behind in 5G technology by banning the company from its network.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a China hawk who has been a strong advocate for a Huawei ban, offered his thoughts to Britain and other countries as they contemplate whether to give the green light to Huawei.

“Compelling market alternatives to Huawei exist, despite Beijing’s best efforts to tilt the market toward Huawei through subsidies and political pressure,” Rubio wrote in an op-ed for The Telegraph. “European companies Ericsson and Nokia, and Korea’s Samsung all offer alternatives to Huawei’s equipment.”

Huawei has made significant inroads in different countries when it comes to 5G thanks to its price compared to competitors. However, given the security risks and uncertainty around whether their particular government would ban Huawei, a number of telecom companies in countries around the world, including Japan’s three main mobile phone carriers, have already shunned Huawei in favour of other suppliers.

In Canada, Rogers has said it won’t include the company in its 5G network, with vice chairman Philip Lind telling BNN that the idea of Huawei controlling the communication system in Canada “is crazy,” adding that the country would have to follow Beijing’s direction.

Canada’s other two major carriers, Telus and BCE, are pushing for Huawei to be allowed in the network, with BCE’s new CEO Mirko Bibic calling the company’s equipment “top-notch” and Huawei a “great partner.”

A year-end poll in 2019 by Angus Reid found that close to 70 percent of Canadians are against allowing Huawei to be part of the country’s 5G network.

“If China would resort to putting Canadians to death to defend its corporate national champion, what might it do if the Chinese Communist Party had unfettered access to Canada’s vital communications networks?” Richard Fadden, a former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and national security advisor to the prime minister, wrote in an op-ed for the Globe and Mail.

Fadden was referring to the case of Robert Schellenberg, previously sentenced to 15 years on drug smuggling charges in China, but whose punishment was escalated to a death sentence following Meng’s arrest.

“There are plenty of reasons why intelligence professionals are alarmed by Huawei’s involvement in our 5G networks, particularly, the close relationship between Huawei and a Chinese government with a history of cyberespionage,” Fadden wrote.

Follow Omid on Twitter: @OGhoreishi