Huawei, Huawei. Huawei, Huawei. Feeling hot, hot, hot: US threatens to cut UK from intel sharing over Chinese tech giant

War over Middle Kingdom's 5G gear heats up

Follow me down the rabbit hole

The logic is that Huawei is compromised by the Chinese government. At the lowest level, the US has argued that Beijing is in the position to force Huawei to add backdoors to its network at some future point so that Western networks can be spied upon from afar: something that Huawei categorically denies. Such backdoors could be used by China to obtain Uncle Sam's intelligence from its allies.

That argument by the Americans has not held sufficient water in Europe, however. The UK and German intelligence services have held their own assessments and concluded that, despite some concerns, any security risks can be mitigated. Hence the distinction between "core" and "non-core" networks – which basically means keeping Chinese equipment out of any networks used to share confidential government information.

While that is a good compromise from the UK's perspective, such "core" networks represent a very small percentage of total investment in mobile networks. The vast majority of networks are used by the general public and are "non-core."

The fact that the US is now refusing to allow a distinction between core and non-core only reinforces the suspicion that the US-led campaign is more about economics than security. Chinese 5G equipment is just as good as US telecom equipment but it is much cheaper. And the rollout of 5G networks over the next decade is worth tens of billions of dollars.

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And so in recent weeks, the rhetoric has escalated. US intelligence sources have started briefing politicians and news outlets that Huawei is funded directly by the Chinese security services. Evidence on that point is thin to non-existent. And there have been a slew of articles claiming that Huawei is secretly controlled by the Chinese government and isn't in fact a private company.

That story follows a pattern that anyone who has followed the UK intelligence services actions for the past 50 years will recognize: a report written by someone with close connections to the defense industry that is then covered by news outlets that have long fostered a relationship with the security services. It is nearly always The Sunday Times. As indeed it was this Sunday.

"The Chinese telecoms giant at the center of a row over plans to allow it to supply technology for the UK’s new 5G network almost certainly acts on behalf of its national intelligence agencies, according to a report co-authored by a former government security adviser," the relevant article begins.

Chipped varnish

In this case the report was written by Peter Varnish OBE for the Henry Jackson Society. The Henry Jackson Society, despite being a British "think tank" is named after an American senator who was a liberal hawk and the organization acts as an influence by US conservative forces within the UK political system.

It has close connections to both the UK and US security services. Its "statement of principles" when it was founded in 2005 were signed by, among others, the former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove and "patrons" include former Reagan defense official Richard Perle, US neocon Bill Kristol, and former CIA head James Woolsey. In 2017, The Henry Jackson Society was accused of pushing anti-China propaganda.

Its report in this case claims that Huawei is secretly controlled by the Chinese government. How? Using the logic that the company is almost entirely owned by a trade union and trade unions in China operate underneath the Communist Party.

As such the report's conclusion that it is "high to certain that Huawei acts on behalf of China's intelligence organs," should be read for what it is: a calculated effort to introduce FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) into the debate over Huawei.

Whichever way you look at the Huawei question, however, the same two basic facts emerge:

  1. The current US administration has decided to aggressively pressure other governments to drop Chinese manufactured 5G equipment, and its core argument is that it represents a security risk. And certainly not anything to do with Huawei kit being cheaper than American products, and as good as if not better in terms of features.
  2. There is no evidence that there is anything but a theoretical security risk posed by such equipment.

The Chinese government has largely stayed out the way and instead allowed Huawei representatives to argue their own case that their products are not tainted and that they have autonomy from the Communist Party.

But with US administrative efforts straying into leaks, misinformation and renewed public threats to withdraw intelligence, the Chinese government has started issuing its own warnings. The Global Times editorial this morning notes: "On the Huawei issue, there are two types of countries: those that follow the US and boycott Huawei and those that do not. China's attitude toward these countries should be different."

It goes on: "The economic cooperation that China provides concerns its core interests. Any country that follows the US in order to hurt China should pay the price no matter how nicely they talk."

In short, Huawei and 5G have become a proxy battle for global economic dominance between the US and China. And the UK is stuck in the middle. And, of course, Brexit only makes it that much worse since it can't throw its lot in with Europe. ®

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