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Ministers back UK govt Huawei verdict

By Angus McNeice in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-04-25 01:01

The UK's official verdict on Huawei will arrive in coming days when a supply chain review is delivered to Parliament. [Photo/Agencies]

Government ministers and security officials have defended the United Kingdom's apparent refusal to ban Huawei from building its 5G network infrastructure in Britain, amid criticism that the move poses a national security risk.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the UK government came to the decision on Tuesday, ending months of speculation over whether the UK would follow several of its allies in banning Huawei from domestic 5G contracts.

Several members of Parliament criticized the decision. Tom Tugendhat, chair of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee, said the move might reduce trust between the UK and other countries in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing community, which include the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

"It would be reckless if the UK gave Huawei free rein over our vital infrastructure," he wrote on Twitter.

But Ciaran Martin, chief executive of the UK National Cyber Security Centre, or NCSC, said that it was not uncommon for member nations to diverge on such matters.

"It's objectively the case that in the past decade there have been different approaches across the Five Eyes and across the wider Western alliance towards Huawei and towards other issues as well," Martin told the BBC.

Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, said the government is on solid ground when acting on recommendations supplied by British security services.

"The NCSC is respected the world over, their advice is that we can manage and minimize any risk Huawei might pose to telecoms infrastructure and (British Prime Minister) Theresa May is absolutely right to act on that advice," James wrote on Twitter.

The government is yet to confirm the media reports, as the official verdict on Huawei will arrive in the coming days when a telecommunications supply chain review is to be delivered to Parliament.

Huawei and two other major telecommunications networks — Ericsson and Nokia — are poised to upgrade the majority of the world's mobile infrastructure from 4G to 5G.

The United States has put pressure on allies to ban the use of Huawei 5G kit due to security concerns. The US has accused Huawei of assisting the Chinese government in espionage, though Washington has not provided any evidence, and the company has repeatedly denied the allegation.

Both New Zealand and Australia have joined the US in boycotting Huawei, and the Telegraph report says the UK government intends to omit Huawei equipment from the core 5G network, but it will allow the company to provide kit for wider access network infrastructure.

In a statement emailed to China Daily, Huawei welcomed the move.

"This green light means that UK businesses and consumers will have access to the fastest and most reliable networks thanks to Huawei's cutting-edge technology," Huawei said.

Matthew Howett, principal analyst at London-based tech analysts Assembly Research, said that mobile network companies in the UK are likely to be buoyed by the government's reported stance.

"This is a pragmatic response in terms of ensuring that Britain remains up there with the rest of Europe and the rest of the world for a timely 5G launch," Howett told China Daily. "It's in line with what the operators would consider to be the best-case scenario."

Recently Assembly Research published a report on the impact a Huawei ban would have on the UK. The report was commissioned by Mobile UK, a trade association that represents major mobile network operators — EE, O2, Three and Vodafone.

It found that a partial to full restriction on Huawei in the telecoms supply chain could cost operators hundreds of millions of pounds and result in an 18 to 24-month delay to the widespread availability of 5G in the UK. Assembly estimated the resultant cost to the economy at between 4.5 billion pounds ($5.9 billion) and 6.8 billion pounds.

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