- The Trump administration’s campaign to keep Chinese tech giant Huawei out of its allies’ 5G networks is having mixed success.
- The US claims Huawei is used as a backdoor for the Chinese government to spy. Huawei denies this.
- The US has been lobbying allies to reject Huawei’s 5G technology.
- One major ally, the UK, decided to permit Huawei limited access to its 5G networks. Other allies are also not listening to US lobbying.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
For over a year the US has been in a political dogfight with Chinese tech giant Huawei over claims the company acts as a proxy for the Chinese government to spy.
Although US officials have long cautioned against the company, tensions heightened in December 2018 when Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada, and subsequently indicted by the US for alleged bank and wire fraud. Meng and Huawei deny any wrongdoing, and the CFO is currently fighting extradition to the US.
Initially, Huawei struck a conciliatory tone, with CEO Ren Zhengfei (who is also Meng Wanzhou’s father) breaking a long press silence to call Donald Trump a “great president.” Since then, however, a fight has erupted between the company and the Trump administration, with Huawei denying any claims of spying and accusing the US of orchestrating Meng Wanzhou’s arrest for political reasons.
The US has been furiously lobbying its allies to freeze out Huawei’s 5G network equipment, citing national security concerns.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned allied countries in mid-February 2019 that it would be “more difficult” for the US to partner with countries that didn’t distance themselves from Huawei.
President Trump ramped up the pressure yet further in May last year by signing an executive order declaring a national emergency over “threats against information and communications technology and services,” a move expected to precede a ban on US businesses buying equipment from Huawei. Since then the company has received three 90-day licenses, so the blacklisting has yet to fully kick in.
Still America continues to lobby against the company, but its efforts have been met with limited success. Here is a run-down of how allies have reacted.
On January 28 2020 Britain dealt the US a major blow, announcing it would allow Huawei to provide a limited amount of 5G and fixed-line equipment.
The UK Department for Culture, Media, and Sport announced Huawei would be excluded from “core” parts of Britain’s network and would only be allowed to make up 35% of its non-core kit.
The Trump administration’s initial reaction was surprisingly placid, with Mike Pompeo walking back the US’ previous threat that it would sever intelligence relationships with any country that allowed Huawei 5G kit.
Various US senators reacted with anger however. “Allowing Huawei to the build the UK’s 5G networks today is like allowing the KGB to build its telephone network during the Cold War,” tweeted Senator Tom Cotton.
“By prioritising costs, the UK is sacrificing national security and inviting the CCP’s surveillance state in. I implore our British allies to reverse their decision,” tweeted Mitt Romney.
The UK is less convinced than the US that Huawei poses a national security threat, however. The head of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) told reporters in 2019 the UK would be able to “manage the risks” posed by the firm. In advice given to accompany the January 2020 decision NCSC still characterised Huawei as a “high-risk vendor” and criticised the firm’s cybersecurity, but once again said the risks were manageable.
Huawei welcomed what it called the British government’s “evidence-based” decision, but Johnson faced major pushback from within his own party.
On March 10 a group of Conservative party rebels tried to pass a new bill that would mandate the UK strip Huawei out of all of its telecoms by 2020. The motion failed, but the government only won by a narrow margin of 24 votes.
The debate that surrounded the vote also brought out an uncomfortable truth for the UK – ditching Huawei would mean huge inconvenience. “We would like to get to the point where we won’t need to have any high-risk vendors at all,” Digital minister Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons, but added that dominant market position made this possible.
Canada’s relationship with the US has been a major factor in its battle with Huawei. In December 2018, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver. The Canadian government approved Meng’s extradition in March, prompting rage from China. Meng is suing Canada over her arrest, claiming her rights were violated.
On the issue of 5G however, Canada’s stance remains uncertain.Sources told Bloomberg in January that the Canadian government was conducting a security review, and was months away from reaching a decision about whether to restrict or ban Huawei.
China’s ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye issued a warning in January, saying he believed there would be “repercussions” if the country froze Huawei out. Just before Trump signed the executive order declaring a national emergency, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters:
“We obviously pay careful attention to what our allies are saying and doing. Some have expressed views, others have not… We’ll take all that into account, but we want to make the very best decision for Canada with respect to the technology and also on national security. Our national security will not be compromised.”
Huawei has also went on a PR charm offensive. the New York Times reported in February 2019 that Huawei was trying to woo Canada, becoming a prominent sponsor of the sports show “Hockey Night.”
In March 2020, the Trump administration started to exert more pressure on Canada. The US sent a special envoy to press the Canadian government months ahead of its official announcement whether it will allow Huawei to build any part of its 5G.
Several unnamed German officials told The Wall Street Journal in February 2019 that Germany was leaning towards allowing Huawei to take part in building 5G networks in the country.
Officials told the Journal that the agreement was preliminary, and still had to be approved by the full cabinet and Parliament, which won’t happen for several weeks.
The Wall Street Journal then reported in March that the US ambassador had upped the pressure on Germany. In a letter to the country’s economics minister, the ambassador warned that if the country allowed Huawei or other Chinese partners to take part in its 5G plans, the US would have to reduce the amount of information it shares with German security forces.
Just days later, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany would set its own security standards for 5G.
Japan effectively banned Huawei, along with fellow Chinese tech company ZTE, from winning any government contracts back December 2018, shortly after CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada. The Washington Post reported at the time that Japan’s three biggest telecom operators planned to follow suit.
A Wall Street Journal report from February 2019 suggested that the US is not having much luck in convincing India to freeze Huawei out.
“Huawei is today at the frontier on 5G and so can’t be ignored,” an unnamed Indian official told the Journal. The same official added that India would select 5G vendors on its own terms, “not under pressure” from the US.
India is a rapidly expanding online market, and will be a major win for Huawei if it can start selling its 5G kit in the country, and conversely a huge blow to the US.
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates, a major ally of the US in the Middle East, announced in February 2019 that it would deploy a 5G network built by Huawei, signifying a major setback in America’s lobbying efforts.
An unnamed American official told the Wall Street Journal that the US will watch the UAE-Huawei partnership closely.
After Polish security services arrested a Chinese Huawei employee on allegations of spying in January 2019, both Huawei and the US seem to have stepped up their game in courting the country.
A month later US Vice President Mike Pence praised the country for its commitment to “protecting the telecoms sector from China.”
Poland is considering excluding Huawei, and the company has been furiously trying to win back favour, even offering to build a “cybersecurity centre” there.
Australia banned Huawei and ZTE from supplying tech for the country’s networks in August 2018. In response, China said Australia was using “various excuses to artificially erect barriers,” and called on it to “abandon ideological prejudices and provide a fair competitive environment for Chinese companies.”
In November 2018, New Zealand blocked Huawei’s 5G technology. Its intelligence agency shot down a proposal from one of the country’s biggest telecom carriers Spark to use Huawei equipment in its 5G network, citing “significant security risks.”
The following February Huawei reacted by taking out full-page ads in New Zealand newspapers saying “5G without Huawei is like rugby without New Zealand,” trying to draw a parallel between its own 5G tech and New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team.
By November 2019 Huawei had managed to wangle its way back in. Spark announced Huawei as one of its preferred 5G vendors alongside Samsung and Nokia, per Nikkei Asian Review.
The European Union
The European Commission released its recommendations to member states on March 26, 2019 regarding the security of 5G networks – and its advice did not include banning Huawei. It recommended that member states conduct their own risk assessments by the end of June 2019.
Commissioner Julian King told reporters that Europe needs to reach its own conclusions about 5G security, “not because anybody else has suggested that we need to do this or because we are reacting to steps taken anywhere else,” CNN reported.
Huawei praised the Commission’s advice, saying it was “objective and proportionate.”
However the Commission did not rule Huawei out as a threat entirely. Vice President Andrus Ansip told reporters:
“We have some kind of specific concerns connected with some producers, so everybody knows I’m talking about China and Huawei… Do we have to worry about this, or not? I think we have to be worried about this.”
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