U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday granted Chinese telecom giant Huawei a limited role in Britain’s 5G mobile network, resisting U.S. pressure to exclude the company from next generation communications based on fears China could use it to steal secrets.
In the biggest test of his post-Brexit foreign policy to date, Johnson ruled that “high-risk vendors” would be allowed into the “non-sensitive” parts of 5G networks, but their involvement would be capped at 35 per cent.
They would be excluded from the sensitive core of networks, where data is processed, and banned from all critical networks and sensitive locations such as nuclear sites and military bases, the government said.
The decision will dismay U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which has said it fears China could use Huawei to steal secrets. The U.S. had warned that if London gave Huawei a role then it could scale back intelligence co-operation.
5G is one of the biggest innovations since the birth of the internet a generation ago, offering consumers and businesses much faster data speeds.
“This is a U.K.-specific solution for U.K.-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now,” British Communications Secretary Nicky Morgan said following a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by Johnson.
Huawei was not mentioned by name in the British government’s statement, but British cyber security officials said they had always treated the company as a “high risk” vendor.
The White House and U.S. State Department did not immediately respond for a request to comment.
Prior to the decision, Beijing had warned that blocking the company would hurt Chinese investment.
“Huawei is reassured by the U.K. government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track,” said company vice-president Victor Zhang on Tuesday.
“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 U.K. access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market,” he said.
Sources told Reuters last week senior British officials had proposed granting Huawei a limited role in the 5G network — a “calculated compromise” which could be presented to Washington as a tough restriction but also accepted by British operators already using the company’s equipment.
Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecom equipment, said the United States wants it blocked from Britain’s 5G network because no U.S. company can offer the same range of technology at a competitive price.
Canada still undecided on Huawei
The British government’s move leaves Canada as the only nation within the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network that has not made a decision on whether or not to make Huawei part of its 5G network plans.
Canada is grappling with its strained relationship with the Chinese government, as the first phase of extradition hearings for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou concluded last week and two Canadians — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — remain detained in China.
Huawei’s equipment is already used by Britain’s biggest telecom companies such as BT and Vodafone, but it has been largely deployed at the “edge” of the network and excluded in the “core” where data is processed.
The United States has argued that as 5G technology evolves, the distinction between the “edge” and “core” will blur as data is processed throughout the network, making it difficult to contain any security risks.