UK to let China’s Huawei help build 5G network snubbing US warning

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UK Theresa May and her senior ministers have said the Chinese telecoms company Huawei can build some non-core parts of Britain’s 5G data network, in spite of US warning that this would put co-operation over security at risk.

The controversial decision, taken on Tuesday at the National Security Council, comes as Philip Hammond, chancellor, prepares to travel to China to promote Britain’s participation in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The decision to give Huawei limited access to the development of Britain’s 5G network, first reported in the Daily Telegraph, was taken despite the concerns of some ministers, including Gavin Williamson, defence secretary, over the impact on the UK’s relationship with Washington.

In February, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, 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.”

“In some cases there’s risk — we won’t even be able to co-locate American resources, an American embassy, an American military outpost.” US officials have lobbied their British counterparts against approving Huawei as a supplier.

The UK is part of the Five Eyes security alliance alongside the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But while Australia and New Zealand have agreed to block or restrict Huawei, the UK has been more equivocal.

Those close to the NSC meeting say the decision was signed off collectively and that security concerns were reflected in the restrictions limiting Huawei’s involvement to non-core parts of the 5G project.

The core infrastructure is where sensitive information such as billing and customer details are stored. The non-core elements are the aerials and base stations on masts and rooftops and transmission equipment, which telecoms companies argue are passive in that data merely passes through and cannot be compromised.

The US wants its allies in the “Five Eyes” intelligence grouping – the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – to exclude the company.

Huawei has denied that its work poses any risks of espionage or sabotage.

But Australia has already said it is siding with Washington – which has spoken of “serious concerns over Huawei’s obligations to the Chinese government and the danger that poses to the integrity of telecommunications networks in the US and elsewhere”.

On the other hand,China’s Huawei said on Wednesday it welcomed reports that Britain would allow limited use of its equipment in new 5G networks.

A security source said Britain will allow Huawei restricted access to non-core parts of the 5G network, but block it from all core parts of the system.

“We welcome reports that the UK government is moving towards allowing Huawei to help build the UK’s 5G networks,” a spokesman said. “While we await a formal government announcement, we will continue work cooperatively with the government and the industry and their evidence-based approach to network security.”

Source: Reuters, Financial Times