UK to make Huawei decision today, amid intensifying US pressure

People walk by Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Huawei's booth during the 2020 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, 07 January 2020. [EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT]

Huawei’s future involvement in the UK’s future 5G network infrastructure hangs in the balance today (28 January), as Prime Minister Boris Johnson sits down with members of the UK’s National Security Council to come to an agreement on the Chinese telecoms giant.

The decision comes just a day before the European Commission is expected to announce a series of recommendations on how the bloc could alleviate cyber security risks at national and bloc-wide level, in its so-called ‘5G toolbox.’

EURACTIV understands that the UK government will afford Huawei a limited role in the country’s next generation-mobile infrastructure. While a decision is set to be finalised in the UK’s National Security Council today, no public announcement is expected yet. Rather, an announcement in the House of Commons is expected in due course.

Any commitment to working alongside Huawei in the UK’s future 5G network is likely to anger the Americans, who have been lobbying heavily against the Chinese firm over the past year, citing national security concerns.

Ren Zhengfei: 'Very likely' Huawei products will be used in UK core 5G networks

Huawei 5G equipment will most probably be used in core aspects of the UK’s future 5G network infrastructure, the founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant, Ren Zhengfei has said. His claim runs contrary to the previous stance held by the UK cabinet, which was to permit the company access only to ‘non-core’ aspects of the country’s 5G networks.

On Monday, US Secretary of State State Mike Pompeo said that the UK had a “momentous” decision ahead of them, and agreed with the opinion of Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat that including Huawei in the UK’s network infrastructure could compromise national security.

For his part, Johnson has adopted a more balanced approach, saying on Monday that the UK was able to modernise its next-generation mobile technology infrastructure without compromising national security.

“We are going to come up with a solution that enables us to achieve both those objectives,” he told reporters.

The issue of Europe’s involvement with the Chinese telecommunications giant has been long in the making. Some member states have been more open to the idea of working with Huawei, while other have adopted a similar approach to the United States.

In August, ambassadors from Romania and the United States signed a memorandum for the development of secure 5G networks, including criteria for selecting companies involved in 5G infrastructure.

And in September, US and Poland signed a joint declaration to collaborate on 5G security in what US Vice President Mike Pence said would “set a vital example for the rest of Europe”.

The agreement, signed in Warsaw by Pence and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, backs plans outlined in ‘The Prague Proposals’ – a series of measures contrived in May to ensure the security of next-generation communications networks.

More recently, in Germany, Angela Merkel’s balanced approach of bolstering security standards has faced a backlash from some in her own party, the CDU, who would like to see an outright ban of Huawei.

Germany’s car industry has also raised concerns that China may retaliate against any decision to alienate Huawei from domestic markets by imposing tariffs on Germany car exports to China, it’s largest foreign market.

In Brussels, the European Commission will tomorrow release its 5G toolbox, a series of recommendations on how the EU could appease some of the security concerns that have emerged over recent years with regards to the bloc’s rollout of 5G technologies.

The Capitals Special: Europe's 5G dilemma

EU ministers adopted conclusions on Tuesday concerning the importance and security of 5G technology, which stress that an approach to 5G cybersecurity should be comprehensive and risk-based, while also taking into account ‘non-technical factors’.

More broadly, in December, EU national ministers adopted conclusions, stressing that an EU  approach to 5G cybersecurity should be comprehensive and risk-based, while also taking into account “non-technical factors”.

An October Commission report on the coordinated risk assessment of 5G networks noted that “threats posed by states or state-backed actors are perceived to be of highest relevance”.

Member states were then tasked with working on a set of risk-alleviating measures which would then inform the 5G toolbox. EU nations worked alongside the Commission and ENISA, the European Agency for Cybersecurity, in drawing up the plans, which will be presented by the EU’s executive alongside the Croatian Presidency of the EU on Wednesday.

EU hints at Huawei risk in 5G security assessment

The European Union hinted strongly it viewed Chinese tech group Huawei as a security risk to its roll-out of 5G networks in a report released Wednesday (9 October).

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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