24 Jan Embracing Huawei 5G could hurt US trade deal, Boris Johnson told
Lucy Fisher, Defence Editor | Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor | Philip Aldrick, Economics Editor
Americans fear approval of Chinese technology will encourage other countries to follow suit President Trump’s appetite for a trade deal with Britain could wane if Boris Johnson lets Huawei contribute to Britain’s 5G network, a senior US official has said.
The prime minister faces intense lobbying from western allies to bar the Chinese company’s technology from the mobile network. He will chair a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) next week that will decide whether to let it build “non-core” infrastructure.
The government is widely expected to give Huawei the go-ahead. Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary and a member of the NSC, said this morning that alternatives to Huawei were limited.
President Trump has said that the company’s technology presents a serious security risk to the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network between Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Australia and the US have already banned Huawei from their 5G projects.
Steven Mnuchin, the US treasury secretary, said that he would meet Sajid Javid, the chancellor, in London at the weekend to discuss “significant concerns” about Huawei.
A senior official in the Trump administration told The Wall Street Journal that the decision could affect the prospects of a trade deal after Brexit. “The appetite for a US-UK trade agreement could be diminished by the UK making the wrong decision on Huawei,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
The Times has been told that one of the main objections raised by Washington is that Britain will act as a gateway to other nations using Huawei technology.
“The US is satisfied that GCHQ can manage the direct risk,” an American government source said. They’re more concerned that the UK’s decision will give other countries a licence to use the technology and they won’t have the same checks.”
Senior Australian politicians have echoed such warnings. Andrew Hastie, a Liberal MP and chairman of the parliamentary joint intelligence and security committee, told that the Five Eyes club was a “family” and added: “We stand together. 5G is part of the network that will bind us. I’m hopeful the UK makes the same decision as the US and Australia. Our government took a bold decision on 5G. The last thing we need is cleavage in the relationship.”
Kimberley Kitching, an Australian Labor senator and chairwoman of the Senate foreign affairs, defence and trade references committee, also pressured Britain not to put economic concerns before security. “It is the ultimate false economy to allow the commercial benefits to outweigh the security considerations where a vendor cannot offer 100 per cent integrity,” she said.
James Paterson, the Liberal chairman of the joint corporations and financial services committee, said that “no one in the Australian political system” regrets banning Huawei.
The company’s technology is often cheaper and more advanced than its rivals and can be installed faster, it is understood. Critics claim, however, that it poses a sabotage and espionage risk because Chinese companies are obliged by law to co-operate with the country’s state security agencies.
Huawei has repeatedly denied posing a security risk and maintains that it is a private, employee-owned company free from state influence.
The US is poised to step up lobbying before the decision. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos Mr Mnuchin said: “This is a complicated issue. We’ve made very clear that it relates to all of the critical areas that we have significant concerns but there are ongoing discussions on those issues.”
Last week Victor Zhang, vice-president of Huawei, said: “We strongly agree with the prime minister that ‘the British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology’. That is why we invested more than $15 billion last year in research and development to ensure our customers receive just that.
“Huawei has worked with the UK’s telecoms companies for 15 years and looks forward to supplying the best technologies that help companies like BT and Vodafone fulfil the government’s commitment to make gigabit broadband available to all.”