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US State Dept official lays out military concerns with its allies using Huawei equipment in 5G

The United States of America will “reassess” any part of a 5G network that has equipment manufactured by Huawei, or any other untrusted vendor, a senior state department official said, when asked UK’s use of Huawei equipment would be a “deal breaker”. Huawei has “no choice but to follow the mandate of the Chinese Communist Party,” the official added, adding that the US does not want to provide “potential adversaries” access to people’s data that they would gain insight into, simply because they are also the vendor for the telecom network. This holds especially true for US’ NATO partners, since that communication includes details about troop mobilisation, the official added.

The UK has reportedly agreed to allow Huawei in developing “non-core” parts of the country’s 5G network, despite the US warning that using Huawei products in its network would be “nothing short of madness”. The official said that the US is having “very vigorous conversations with the United Kingdom right now”.

How will using Huawei equipment affect other countries’ partnership with the US? Earlier this year, US Senator Tom Cotton introduced a bill that proposes to ban intelligence sharing between the US and any country that uses products made by Huawei for their 5G networks. When asked about the proposed legislation, the official said that they haven’t formed an “interagency opinion” on it yet. But the official pointed out that the National Defence Authorisation Act mandates intelligence agencies to assess the cybersecurity quality of the infrastructure of any country that the US would engage with. He said that, in their conversations with other countries about Huawei, they have made sure to talk about this provision, albeit “not as a threat”.

Germany, too, has allowed Huawei in building its 5G network: NATO member Germany, last year, said that it would not ban Huawei from building its 5G network. The federal official said that while Germany has said that it would be able to able to identify whether or not a vendor could introduce a potential vulnerability in the network, such a toolkit is “inadequate”. “The testing will never find these vulnerabilities injected into millions of lines of code,” the official added.

The US has repeatedly urged India to not allow Huawei in building its 5G network, but the Indian government has allowed the Chinese company to participate in the 5G field trials expected to take place this year.

Why is the US so sure that China will use Huawei for surveillance? The state official said that the US isn’t quite sure about what China will do, since 5G is in a nascent stage. However, the official added that “we’ve seen how China has used surveillance through connected devices, including technology provided by Huawei to surveil its own citizens. It’s hard to say what would be done abroad”.

“Any smart components that belong to Huawei are a risk that’s too high to have, given what’s going to ride on these networks, given that there’ll be telemedicine, that there’ll be autonomous vehicles,” the official said.

But, what if using Huawei equipment makes more financial sense? The official reiterated that if countries, especially in Asia and Africa, choose not to include Huawei in their 5G networks, it won’t really set their 5G development back. In fact, the reason why countries believe that not having Huawei will affect the development of their 5G network is because of “a global campaign of propaganda that’s been joined forces with — by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convince people that they will be set back if they do not use Huawei technology,” the official said. These countries should remember that this is very much a national security question.

Read More: 2001-2019: Huawei’s long history of being considered a national security threat

The proximity of Huawei and China: China has pushed models that have limited access to the internet, applied filters to content on the internet and assigned social credit scores by means of surveillance in the Xinjiang province, the official said, and added that countries that choose to business with Huawei should remember that they are essentially setting themselves up for to be a part of such governance models. The official suggested that countries should be wary of the kinds of policies that might be pushed forward, should they allow Huawei to operate.

What about non-Chinese telecom vendors? The official was asked as to why the US believes that telecom vendors such as Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung “won’t flip into a Huawei”. To that, the person said that these are publicly traded companies, and “appear to a Western legal system,” however, if that were to change, “then you might have to reassess”.

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