A response to Robert Strayer: Reasonable people make their own decisions

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Catherine Chen, President of the Public Relations and Communications Department at Huawei, speaking at a recent conference in Brussels. [Huawei EU]

Recent remarks from Robert Strayer, the US’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy, about Huawei, 5G, and cyber security, are prompting me to respond.

Catherine Chen is President of the Public Relations and Communications Department at Huawei.

Mr. Strayer, your thoughts and ideas are not grounded in reality. As we all know, 5G is here. It is no longer just an idea backed up by technical jargon. Ink has been spilled on 5G and it is now a popular buzzword bandied about by the mass media, social networks, and politicians.

To many political figures in the US, 5G has become a crucial topic of national leadership. I fear Mr. Strayer has devoted himself to an outdated understanding of mobile technologies.

Mr. Strayer claims that since Huawei is headquartered in China, all of Huawei’s 5G equipment is at risk of being influenced by the Chinese government. The modern ICT industry’s supply chain is global. Everyone in the industry is aware that these technologies are the products of this global supply chain. Around 30% of Huawei’s product components are developed and produced by us, but so is a significant portion of the equipment and components made by Huawei’s non-Chinese competitors. Nokia is a prime example of this. Unlike Huawei though, people don’t question when its equipment is used widely and securely around the world.

Mr. Strayer says the boundary between core and non-core networks are blurred with 5G, so there is no point in making a distinction between. But the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee itself was the one that concluded that there will continue to be significant distinctions between core and non-core elements in 5G networks.

Core elements are still part of the core networks, rather than base stations, wherever they are deployed in the physical world.

Mr. Strayer equips himself with false confidence and a fearless attitude, boldly sharing his outlandish ideas at many international venues. Just this February, Mr. Strayer headed the US’s delegation to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Mr. Strayer stood up and righteously spoke at multiple press conferences during the event. Maybe he thought he was fulfilling some kind of nationalistic duty. The public did not seem on his side though.

While Mr. Strayer has no problems explaining the paradoxical dilemmas he sees us facing, he has failed to provide any feasible solutions. He has refused to believe in the results of any source code reviews, even though Microsoft and Cisco themselves use them as one of the most important technical means to assess product security risks in the cyber security domain.

Mr. Strayer has decided to make Huawei his very own enemy, but the threats he has described are exaggerated. Huawei is only an equipment vendor. It does not control user data as that data is left in the hands of telecom operators. Almost ironically, Huawei has virtually no presence in the US market. This means that Mr. Strayer and the Trump administration’s claims that Huawei equipment undermines the US’s cyber and national security is laughable.

To go even further, Mr. Strayer’s question about who invented 5G has no bearing on the real world. The Chinese invented gunpowder as early as the 9th century AD, but it was European militaries and engineers that figured out how to use gunpowder for wide scale applications. Karl Benz from Germany invented the first modern car, but it was Ford from the US that made the first automobile assembly line turning cars into an accessible consumer product. Adopting or applying a technology is far more important than inventing it.

Finally, the US currently has no 5G equipment vendors and is facing down serious problems around 5G spectrum allocation and fibre sharing between operators. It is clear to see that Washington is unnerved by how far behind the US is in terms of 5G deployment. I believe this is making them overreact. Tom Wheeler, the former chairman of FCC, said the US was never the first to deploy any of the “G” wireless networks, but nonetheless remained a leader in the digital world because of its strong ecosystem. In other words, the actions of Mr. Strayer and other US politicians are simply showing their own feelings of inadequacy, not any true weakness in the US.

I believe that Mr. Strayer will eventually come to understand the points I make above, but it may only be with the benefit of hindsight. Reasonable people that will remind Mr. Strayer that the world is moving on; reasonable people will make their own decisions. For example, Europe has recently developed its General Data Protection Regulation. These calmly developed and unified security standards are not something Mr. Strayer could have created. From what we have seen, they just criticise without proposing any solutions. In the end, all this means is that when it comes to 5G, many European countries still continue to choose Huawei as their 5G equipment vendor, regardless of what Mr. Strayer has to say.

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