U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence made a personal appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday to bar Huawei Technologies from supplying gear to Canada’s next generation 5G wireless networks, saying the Chinese telecom giant represents a national-security risk to Western countries.
This marked the highest-level official U.S. request of Canada since the Trump administration and bipartisan members of Congress began actively lobbying allies last year to prohibit domestic telecoms from installing Huawei’s 5G technology.
“Let me say: We have been very clear with Canada, and with all of our allies, that we consider Huawei incompatible with the security interests of the United States of America or our allies … across the world,” Mr. Pence told a joint news conference in Ottawa. “We have urged our partners in Europe [and] we continue to urge Canada in this regard.”
Mr. Pence said the fact that companies in China are required under law to conduct espionage at the request of Beijing’s security services “gives the Chinese government access to information and data that is collected by Chinese companies like Huawei.”
He said the United States will be taking steps to promote viable Western alternatives to Huawei gear "that don’t compromise privacy, that don’t compromise security.”
The Prime Minister would not commit to banning Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Thursday, saying the government is currently conducting a cybersecurity review of the potential risks of allowing Canadian wireless companies to use China’s 5G equipment.
“We trust our national-security and intelligence experts to make recommendations on how we can ensure that Canadians are safe as we move toward a 5G world,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Huawei − which has grown quickly to become the world’s largest telecommunications-equipment manufacturer − is at the heart of the battle between Washington and Beijing over what the Trump administration says is an effort by China to use its tech companies to expand its geopolitical goals.
The U.S. has threatened to curtail the sharing of sensitive intelligence to countries that allow Huawei into their 5G networks, particularly members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance that includes Canada, Britain, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. The latter three have taken steps to bar domestic wireless companies from installing Huawei’s 5G.
The Vice-President, on his first official visit to Canada, reiterated U.S. demands for Beijing to free two Canadians who were detained by China after Canadian authorities arrested senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request at Vancouver’s international airport in December.
“The United States renewed our call on the Chinese government to release the two Canadians who have been wrongfully detained for the last six months without due process of law," he said. "We stand with Canada on this cause and we will continue to until your citizens are restored.”
Mr. Pence did not respond when a reporter asked if the U.S. might withdraw its extradition request of Ms. Meng, a possibility that President Donald Trump has not ruled out as part of protracted trade talks with China.
But he suggested that Mr. Trump could raise the cases of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor with China’s President Xi Jinping when he attends a G20 summit along with Mr. Trudeau in Japan in late June.
“We are going to continue to urge China to release the Canadian citizens even as we deal with the larger economic and structural issues between the United States and China,” he said. “We respect and are grateful for the strong stand for the rule of law that Canada has taken with regard to the Huawei executive.”
U.S. authorities allege that Ms. Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, committed fraud relating to U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Mr. Trudeau said many of Canada’s allies have expressed “their dismay” at China for what they consider the arbitrary arrest of the two Canadians. Beijing also blocked billions of dollars of Canadian canola and farm products in the wake of Ms. Meng’s arrest.
“The democracies of the West are united in our condemnation of these arbitrary detentions in an attempt to gain political leverage,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Last week, China’s ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, told The Globe and Mail that Canada must free Ms. Meng before normal relations can resume.
China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has refused to even take a phone call from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
The U.S. Vice-President was in Ottawa largely to discuss the ratification of the new North American free-trade agreement.
The Prime Minister tabled legislation to ratify the continental treaty in Parliament on Wednesday, but there are concerns that the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives will block the deal.
Mr. Pence assured the Prime Minster that the administration is working hard to get the treaty passed this summer.
Mr. Trudeau has made it clear that Canada intends to align its ratification process with the time frame of the U.S. Congress and expressed concerns about any major changes to the treaty.
“Canada doesn’t anticipate reopening that text. I think we all know reopening negotiations could lead to significant delays,” he said.
In his talks, Mr. Trudeau raised the continuing softwood-lumber dispute and possible U.S. plans for tariffs on uranium imports, which would have a significant impact if they applied to Canada.
The crisis in Venezuela was also on the agenda Thursday. Mr. Pence lauded Ottawa for sanctioning officials connected to the regime of President Nicolas Maduro and for playing a leading role in the Lima Group – a bloc of a dozen countries in the Americas that meet regularly to discuss Venezuela.
The Lima Group – which includes Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Chile − backs Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s push to oust Mr. Maduro but opposes military intervention.
However, Mr. Trudeau made it clear that he did not agree with Mr. Pence’s tough criticism of Cuba, which has backed the Venezuelan President.
“We acknowledge the United States’ position and perspective on Cuba. Canada has a very different view,” he said, noting that Cuba could “potentially play a very positive role” in the Lima Group to stabilize the situation in Venezuela.