Huawei faces potential UK backlash in new probe

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. [EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL]

Bolstered US sanctions against Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei have prompted UK authorities to launch a fresh probe into the company, a government spokesperson said on Sunday (24 May).

Last week, the US Department of Commerce announced new restrictions on sales to Huawei of chips made with American equipment, in a bid to “narrowly and strategically target Huawei’s acquisition of semiconductors.”

The move is seen as an upping of the ante against the Chinese firm, following the Trump administration’s May 2019 placing of Huawei on the US entity list – making it difficult to obtain licenses for American companies to do business with Huawei.

And last week’s escalation in restrictions has caught the attention of the UK National Cyber Security Centre, who are now planning a fresh investigation into the Chinese firm.

“Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the National Cyber Security Centre is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks,” a British government spokesman said on Sunday.

“The security and resilience of our networks is of paramount importance,” the statement added.

The comments come after an earlier report in The Daily Telegraph that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is plotting to reduce Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network infrastructure to ‘zero’ by 2023.

The report provoked worry from Shenzhen, who highlighted that the UK government had given Huawei the green light to take part in its 5G infrastructure in January this year.

“The government decided in January to approve our part in the 5G rollout, because Britain needs the best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers, all of which means more secure and more resilient networks,” a statement from Huawei Vice-President Victor Zhang, said.

“As a private company, 100% 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.”

However, Huawei declined to comment on Sunday’s news of the NCSC’s newest investigation.

In Brussels, meanwhile, there are broader concerns related to the bloc’s rollout of 5G.

In early May, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Digital, Margrethe Vestager, urged EU telecoms ministers to “limit as much as possible” any delays to their 5G spectrum assignments, amid new challenges to the industry brought on by the coronavirus crisis.

Her plea came after the announcement of a series of delays to 5G spectrum auctions in Europe – including in Spain, Austria, Portugal and the Czech Republic – who have all been beset by postponements due to the current public health crisis.

Vestager said that while she understood the reasons for the delays in 5G spectrum assignments, member states should “keep up the pace” as a means of meeting current timeframe objectives.

The EU launched its 5G toolbox in January this year, aiming to mitigate the potential risk of member states doing business with vendors deemed to be untrustworthy.

EU nations are due to submit a joint report on the implementation of the security measures included in the toolbox to the Commission by June 30.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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