UK grants Huawei a limited 5G role

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches members of the Chinese community performing dances during celebrations for Chinese New Year, at No. 10 Downing Street, London, Britain, 24 January 2020. [EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER]

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday granted China’s Huawei a limited role in Britain’s future 5G mobile network, a choice that risks damaging relations with the United States which fears China could use the company to steal Western secrets.

In the biggest test of his post-Brexit foreign policy to date, Johnson ruled that “high-risk vendors” would be excluded from the sensitive core of networks, and there would a 35% cap on their involvement in the non-sensitive parts.

While the British government did not mention Huawei by name, a statement from its communications ministry said “high-risk vendors” would be excluded from all critical networks and sensitive locations such as nuclear sites and military bases.

“This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now,” Communications Secretary Nicky Morgan said following a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by Johnson.

The decision will dismay President Donald Trump’s administration which fears China could use Huawei to steal secrets and which has warned that if London gives Huawei a role then it could scale back intelligence cooperation.

Huawei, though, was happy.

“Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track,” said Victor Zhang, Vice-President, Huawei.

“This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future. It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.”

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