US sanctions on Huawei may result in the Chinese telecoms giant being frozen out of the UK’s 5G network, according to culture and digital secretary Oliver Dowden.
Dowden said today that the government was “clear eyed” about the security risks Huawei pose in helping build 5G infrastructure and flagged a potential U-turn on their involvement.
The UK’s the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a branch of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intelligence agency, is currently conducting a review into US export controls imposed on Huawei.
It has been speculated that the review may be a way for the government to change its policy on letting the telecom company help build “non-core” elements of the UK’s 5G infrastructure.
The government almost lost a parliamentary vote earlier this year on Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network, after a large chunk of Tory backbenchers rebelled.
Downing Street has since come under heavy pressure from Conservative MPs about Huawei’s involvement, with many concerned the firm could collect sensitive information through the network on behalf of the Chinese state.
Dowden told parliament’s Defence Select Committee today that the NCSC review could have policy implications in another clear sign that a U-turn could be on the cards.
“Given the US government has imposed sanctions on Huawei, given those are focussed on 5G, we do need to fully understand those and understand how that impacts on how much we can rely on Huawei equipment in the system given it is subject to those restraints from the sanctions,” he said.
“If there are policy changes that are necessary coming out of that, the process will be off the back of the report, I will work with the Prime Minister on that and then it will go to the National Security Council and I would make a statement to the House [of Commons] if there is a policy change.”
Beijing has come under immense criticism lately for a number of human rights abuses, its response to the coronavirus pandemic and its attempted clampdown on freedom of speech in Hong Kong.
Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the Chinese government had been administering forcing sterilisations and abortions to Uyghur muslim women in the province of Xinjiang.
China has also been accused of holding more than one million Uyghur muslims in the north of the country in concentration camps.
Members of the Defence Select Committee lined up to criticise the Chinese government, with Isle of Wight MP questioning if Huawei could be shut out of the UK’s 5G network on the basis of its home country’s poor human rights record.
“You have a company that you want to allow to have up to a third of the UK 5G network involved working with the Chinese authorities in building effectively a surveillance state in Xinjiang and other provinces,” he said.
Johnson made the decision earlier this year to allow Huawei to build “non-core” elements of the UK’s 5G network, which were deemed to be less vulnerable to potential security attacks.
They are also only allowed to build up to 35 per cent of the network.
Huawei vice president Victor Zhang said: ““We are investing billions to make the Prime Minister’s vision of a ‘connected Kingdom’ a reality so that British families and businesses have access to fast, reliable mobile and broadband networks wherever they live,” he said.
“We have been in the UK for 20 years and remain focused on working with our customers and the government to ensure the country gets the jobs and economic growth created by 5G as quickly as possible.”