Daily US Times: The UK government is preparing to change the course of Chinese teleco giant Huawei in its 5G telecoms network.
Six months ago, the government agreed to give limited access to Huawei to build UK’s 5G network. But ministers now look set to exclude the Chinese company, with no new equipment installed from next year.
The step is in part a result of pressure from Washington.
However, the precise time frame and details of the phase-out will be crucial in determining how the decision is received.
After lengthy delays and hard-fought battles, the government announced in January that Huawei would be kept out of the sensitive core of the 5G network and limited to 35% market share of its other parts. But now the British government finds itself revisiting that decision.
A key reason behind the UK’s latest move is the Trump administration has continued what one UK official calls a campaign of “unrelenting pressure” on Huawei.
US officials have claimed China could use Huawei as a gateway to “spy, steal or attack” the UK – the firm denies this and its founder has said he would rather shut the company down than do anything to damage its clients.
New sanctions imposed in May limited Huawei’s access to US chip technology.
That forced the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre to launch a review to understand whether using alternative chips would reduce the level of assurance it could offer about Huawei’s presence in the UK.
But the decision will be as much about domestic politics and geopolitics as it is about technicalities.
In the last six months, attitudes to China have hardened. The Coronavirus crisis – and the way Beijing’s handled it – have increased concerns about dependencies on China. The growing tension over Hong Kong has heightened concerns about whether China is becoming more authoritarian.
If the telecom networks fall behind with their 5G rollout as a result, it would make it harder for the UK government to execute its promises of increasing connectivity for the country in the coming years.
Beijing may also seek some way of punishing the UK, partly to discourage other countries from following its course.
But equally, if the new policy is seen as not tough enough, then critics on the backbenches may continue their rebellion to push for a tighter time-frame when legislation is brought to parliament in the autumn.