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Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinted the U.K. could follow some of its international security allies by restricting or banning Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from its fifth generation telecommunication networks.
“I don’t want this country to be unnecessarily hostile to investment from overseas,” Johnson told a news conference in Watford, England, after hosting the NATO summit. “On the other hand, we cannot prejudice our vital national security interest. Nor can we prejudice our ability to co-operate with our Five-Eyes security partners and that will be the key criteria that informs our decision.”
In 2018, Australia became the first country to effectively ban Chinese equipment makers Huawei and ZTE from providing 5G equipment on national security grounds. Huawei has become a lightning rod for tensions between the U.S. and Europe over trade and security policy as Washington threatens reprisals against any governments that allow Chinese equipment to form part of the crucial ultrafast networks.
Of the Five-Eyes intelligence-sharing nations, New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. have effectively banned the company while Canada and U.K. have not so-far followed suit.
Johnson was responding to comments earlier Wednesday from U.S. President Donald Trump, who reasserted his administration’s position that Huawei’s involvement in new telecommunication networks is a “security risk, it’s a security danger.”
“I spoke to Italy and they look like they are not going to go forward with that. I spoke to other countries, they are not going to go forward. Everybody I’ve spoken to is not going to go forward,” Trump said following meetings at the NATO summit, including one with Johnson on Tuesday evening.
Decision on Huawei Role in U.K. 5G Delayed Until After Election
Johnson, in his comments, may have been playing the part of polite host. A full ban forcing carriers to “rip-and-replace” their existing Huawei technology from the entire network is less likely than partial restrictions on the role the company can have in 5G networks.
Companies say a full ban would take years and cost them hundreds of millions of pounds, with that figure increasing every day as they upgrade more masts to 5G. Johnson has pledged to roll out gigabit-per-second broadband speeds to the whole country by 2025 and 5G to a majority by 2027.
The road to a U.K. decision has been long and controversial. Some officials have pushed for tough restrictions as a result of concerns over foreign involvement in critical national infrastructure, while others said this would saddle the telecommunications industry with extra costs and delay technological upgrades. A decision is on hold until after the U.K. general election on Dec. 12.
Huawei said it is still committed to working with the U.K. on developing its network.
“We’re confident the U.K. government will continue to take an objective, evidence-based approach to cyber security,” the company said in a statement. “Our customers trust us because we supply the kind of secure, resilient systems called for by the NATO Declaration and will continue working with them to build innovative new networks.”
(Updates with response from company in final paragraph.)
--With assistance from Giles Turner, Thomas Seal and Rebecca Penty.
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