Tue, 11 Aug 2020

| China warns UK: dropping Huawei will cost you

The decision to strip out Huawei's kit from British networks represents a major reversal by Johnson, and threatens to fuel a growing row between the UK and China at a highly sensitive time. China has warned Johnson will face "consequences" if the UK treats it as a "hostile partner."

Johnson, his senior ministers and top security chiefs signed off on the plan at a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden set out the details after the meeting. While 5G will be "transformative" for the UK, "confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure it is built upon" is vital.

"The government has decided it is necessary to ban Huawei from our 5G networks," Dowden said. "This decisive move provides the industry with the clarity and certainty it needs to get on with delivering 5G across the UK."

In May the US banned Huawei from sourcing microchips which use American technology, a move that forced British officials to reassess their view of the security and sustainability of using the company's equipment in 5G networks.

"This was a significant and material change," Dowden said. These sanctions have "potentially severe impacts" on Huawei's ability to supply equipment to the UK, he said.

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre led a review which concluded the new US sanctions meant Huawei would have to use potentially insecure technology, making 5G security risks impossible to control.

British phone companies now have a complex and expensive task to remove Huawei gear from their networks over the next seven years. Dowden warned the decision will inevitably delay the roll out of 5G networks in the UK.

WATCH | We need years to drop Huawei gear, say Vodafone, BT

Johnson gave the green light to Huawei's involvement in emerging mobile networks in January, subject to limits, but he came under intense pressure from US President Donald Trump to change course.

At the same time, Johnson has faced demands from within his own Conservative Party to take a tougher line with Beijing. Senior Tories demanded the premier should give firm deadlines for when Huawei will be blocked from Britain, amid concerns its equipment could be used by Chinese spies - a charge the company denies.

Johnson now faces several difficulties. Huawei is a huge global phone equipment maker which is already embedded in British networks. Removing it will be complicated for phone companies and risks undermining the premier's election promise to improve communications services across the UK.

In the short term, a ban on the company will inflame already heated relations between London and Beijing. Tensions have grown recently over China's new security law in Hong Kong, a former British colony, and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to the UK, accused Johnson's government of "gross interference" in domestic policy and accused the UK of "dancing to the tune" of the US over Huawei. Even in London, the prime minister may find his plans do not go far enough to satisfy some of his Conservative colleagues.

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