- The US and Chinese phone giant Huawei are at each other’s throats.
- America 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, but not everyone’s listening.
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For months 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 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 Zhengei (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 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 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.
America’s lobbying efforts have been met with mixed success. Here is a run-down of how allies have reacted.
- Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Multiple reports surfaced on April 24 that Prime Minister Theresa May had given the order allowing Huawei to build “non-core” parts of the UK’s 5G infrastructure.
The Financial Times reported in February that the British government decided it could “mitigate the risks” associated with using Huawei’s 5G technology, and in the same month head of GCHQ Jeremy Fleming said the UK had to be wary of the security threats posed by Chinese tech companies.
In March, Britain’s government-led board in charge of vetting Huawei criticised the company’s mobile network equipment for “major [security] defects,” but added that it did not believe the defects were the result of state interference, but rather poor engineering.
The UK delayed making a decision on whether to exclude Huawei from its 5G network on July 23, a move which Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang said gave the company “confidence.” Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said the government was “not yet in a position” because of a lack of clarity from the US.
In an interview with the BBC, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei hinted that the UK could benefit from the vacuum left by the US.
“We will invest even more in the UK. Because if the US doesn’t trust us, then we will shift our investment from the US to the UK on an even bigger scale,” he said.
- Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Canada’s relationship with the US has been a major factor in its battle with Huawei. In December, 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 been on a PR charm offensive. the New York Times reported in February that Huawei was trying to woo Canada, becoming a prominent sponsor of the sports show “Hockey Night.”
- Dario Pignatelli/Reuters
Several unnamed German officials told The Wall Street Journal in February 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 reported in March that the US ambassador had upped the pressure on Germany. In 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 Huawei’s 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.
- REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
A Wall Street Journal report on February 21 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
- Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
The United Arab Emirates, a major ally of the US in the Middle East, announced in February that it will deploy a 5G network built by Huawei this year, 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.
- REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
After Polish security services arrested a Chinese Huawei employee on allegations of spying in January, both Huawei and the US seem to have stepped up their game in courting the country.
During a February visit, 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 favor, even offering to build a “cybersecurity center” 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.”
- REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo
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.”
In 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.
Most recently, it seems New Zealand could be persuaded to let Huawei in. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in mid-February that the door was not totally shut, saying there’s not yet been a “final decision.”
“It is now currently with Spark to mitigate the concerns that have been raised. That is where the process sits,” she said.
The European Union
- Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock
The European Commission released its recommendations to member states on March 26 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.”