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On Tuesday, the United Kingdom announced it would be banning the use of Huawei technologies in the country’s 5G network, which officials say could delay the unveiling of the network by two to three years.
The move backtracks on previous statements from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said in January that Huawei would be allowed a 35% market share in non-sensitive parts of the 5G network.
New political developments since then have worsened the relationship between China and the UK, and China and the United States, a close political ally of the UK, which has created more pressure on the UK government to review its agreements with the Chinese company.
This decision was made after the British National Cyber Security Centre concluded that the Chinese telecoms giant would have to resort to alternative, potentially insecure technology following the US decision in May to prohibit Huawei from using American technology in its microchips.
Some critics have said that because of Huawei’s close ties to the Chinese government, the technology could be used for espionage or to disrupt telecommunications, posing potential security risks.
However, the telecoms company has strongly denied this possibility.
Despite this, the British government said that the risks proved too high for such a critical project, announcing that not only would Huawei equipment be banned from the new 5G network, but also existing gear for the older 2G, 3G and 4G infrastructure.
“Today’s decision, however, is about ensuring the long-term security of our telecoms networks specifically in the light of those US sanctions,” said Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden before the House of Commons on Tuesday. “We have never, and will never, compromise that security in pursuit of economic prosperity.”
Dowden added that the overhaul of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, both existing and developing, would cost up to £2 billion (US$2.5 billion).
“As facts have changed, so has our approach,” he said. “This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the U.K.’s telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy, both now and indeed in the long run.”
Under the ban, it would be illegal for British phone companies to purchase new Huawei components after the end of this year.
Dowden also stated that the removal process would follow a “necessary and prudent timetable” and is expected to be complete by 2027.
Huawei representatives have responded to Britain’s “disappointing” decision, saying it would negatively affect anyone in the UK with a mobile phone.
“We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK,” said a spokesman for Huawei UK Edward Brewster.
“Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicised, this is about US trade policy and not security….We will conduct a detailed review of what today’s announcement means for our business here.”
Chinese officials have also reacted angrily to the announcement, with China’s ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming taking to Twitter to criticize the British government.
However, given their close political relationship and shared concerns about China, the British decision was welcomed by the US. Woody Johnson, the American ambassador to the UK, tweeted that the decision was a “win for fair trade and human rights.”
US President Donald Trump also weighed in, saying in a news conference that the US has “confronted untrustworthy Chinese technology and telecom providers.”
“We convinced many countries, and I did this myself for the most part, not to use Huawei, because we think it’s an unsafe security risk,” said Trump.
The removal of Huawei technologies from Britain’s telecoms systems adds to other political strains between the UK and China in recent weeks stemming from issues such as concern over Beijing’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong.
Last week, following Beijing’s official enactment of a contentious national security law in the former British colony, the UK has extended offers to open up paths to citizenship for up to three million Hong Kongers.
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