Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei may still play a part in launching Britain’s 5G national network, despite concerns over the company’s security and integrity. In a news story published by the Daily Telegraph and fuelled by an anonymous leak, the National Security Council (NSC) has agreed last week to allow Huawei access to “non-core” elements of the new network.
The move has drawn sharp criticism from some quarters of Theresa May’s own government, with at least five of her most senior ministers advising against it at the meeting. Meanwhile, the US has also indicated it may have to rethink its information sharing strategies with the UK if Huawei’s involvement in the 5G project goes ahead.
A cause for concern
Although privately owned, Huawei is believed to have benefited massively from Chinese government assistance. In 1996, the company was designated a “national champion” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), effectively prioritising Huawei’s prosperity over all foreign competition. This has allowed it to become the second biggest producer of smartphones in the world (behind Samsung) and command the largest market share of the network equipment and software industry.
However, its incredible rise to success has not come without controversy. The USA and Australia have both banned Huawei from involvement in national projects, with the former stating that any nation state which allowed Huawei to build their critical information infrastructure would not be able to benefit from data sharing with America.
The major concern appears to be over a clause in Chinese law, which makes it illegal for any company to refuse to help the CCP in gathering intelligence. Huawei and its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou – the daughter of its founder Ren Zhengfei – are also the subject of indictments from the US, who accuse them of stealing intelligence, obstruction of justice and misleading the American government.
Leaks are a separate problem
While allowing Huawei to build antennas and other non-core infrastructure for the UK’s 5G network may be a risky strategy in the long-term, the fact that the NSC’s delegations were leaked to the press is a very alarming short-term concern. Chaired by the Prime Minister, the NSC is supposed to be a secure forum where MI5, MI6 and GCHQ can exchange information privately.
It’s the first time that such a leak has occurred and there are calls for the responsible party to be fired with immediate effect, regardless of their seniority. The five individuals who are believed to be outspoken critics of the Huawei decision are Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. All five have denied their involvement in the leak.
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