British officials have discussed supplies of 5G networking equipment with companies in South Korea and Japan as part of a bid to develop alternatives to China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, a person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
The source said the talks with Japan’s NEC Corp and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, which were first reported by Bloomberg, are part of a government plan announced last year to diversify Britain’s range of 5G suppliers.
A government spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment after normal working hours in London. NEC and Samsung were not immediately available outside normal business hours.
Britain designated Huawei a “high-risk vendor” in January, capping its 5G involvement at 35% and excluding it from the data-heavy core of the network.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under renewed pressure from the United States and lawmakers in his own party, who say Huawei’s equipment could be used by Beijing for spying. Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Ties between the United Kingdom and China have also grown tense since Britain’s decision on Huawei over Beijing’s handling of the situation in Hong Kong and the COVID-19 pandemic.
London is now looking at the possibility of phasing Huawei out of its 5G network completely by 2023, officials say, and pushing forward with plans to develop a range of alternative suppliers.
Security officials are also looking at the impact of new US sanctions which limit the Chinese company’s ability to produce the microchips needed for its equipment.
US Senator Tom Cotton told UK lawmakers on Tuesday that China was using Huawei “to drive a hi-tech wedge” between Britain and the United States.