It appears the UK wants Chinese telecommunications company Huawei as far away from its 5G network as possible. In an about-face, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told officials to create plans to reduce Huawei’s involvement in the country’s 5G networks to zero by 2023.
The news, which was reported by the Telegraph and the Guardian, comes months after Johnson said he would allow Huawei to supply up to 35 per cent of the UK’s 5G networks but bar it from accessing “sensitive core” parts of the networks. According to the Telegraph, the new plans come in light of growing opposition against Chinese investment from members of Johnson’s own party and a lack of transparency over Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, one of the conservatives opposed to the presence of Huawei in the 5G networks, told the Guardian that he welcomed Johnson’s change of heart.
“This is very good news and I hope and believe it will be the start of a complete and thorough review of our dangerous dependency on China,” Smith said.
Per the Guardian, Smith isn’t alone in his views. Senior ministers also want to reduce the UK’s economic dependence on China for essential goods. They are currently working on an initiative called “Project Defend,” which aims to boost British self-sufficiency in medicine and technology.
Johnson’s pivot will be welcome news for the U.S., which had intensely lobbied UK officials against using Huawei technology in the country’s 5G networks. Some US officials told British ministers that allowing Huawei access would be “nothing short of madness” and put transatlantic intelligence sharing at risk.
The U.S. has claimed that Huawei includes back doors in its equipment that allow the company to spy on users of mobile phone networks that use it. This would effectively give Huawei the same access to any data transmitted over the network, including phone calls and text messages, as law enforcement, which must provide warrants to gain access. Huawei has repeatedly denied these accusations.
Until recently, Johnson seemed to be giving Huawei the benefit of the doubt. His initial plan to allow Huawei to supply up to 35 per cent of the networks was approved by the UK’s intelligence agencies, which argued that any mass surveillance risks associated with the equipment could be contained. But things change.
Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang said the reports “simply don’t make sense,” according to Politico.
“As a private company, 100 per cent owned by employees, which has operated in the UK for 20 years, our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies keep Britain connected, which in this current health crisis has been more vital than ever,” he said. “This is our proven track-record.”