The federal government says it likely will not decide until after the fall election whether to ban China’s flagship technology company from this country’s next-generation 5G wireless networks.
The update on the future of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in Canada comes while the fate of two Canadians arrested by Beijing remains uncertain. China detained former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor only days after Canada took senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou into custody last December on an extradition request from the United States.
Critics have called Beijing’s seizure of the two Canadians “hostage diplomacy.” Ms. Meng’s father, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, suggested in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail that if his daughter were freed, Huawei might advocate for the release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.
The United States and Australia have banned Huawei from their 5G networks, and in late November last year, New Zealand blocked the first request from one of its wireless carriers to install the company’s equipment in a 5G network.
The U.S. has campaigned to persuade allies to bar Huawei and has even threatened to restrict information-sharing with countries that use the company’s networking equipment. U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence has said the fact that businesses in China are legally required 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.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Canada needs more information from the U.S. about the nature of the perceived security threat the company poses, and it likely won’t come before campaigning begins for the Oct. 21 election in early September.
“I think at this stage, with the amount of time that’s left between now and the issuing of a writ, that it is unlikely for that decision to be taken before an election,” Mr. Goodale told The Canadian Press in an interview on Tuesday from London after a meeting between Canada and its allies in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group: the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Canada is reviewing the security risks of 5G technology, and the outcome of that could include barring Huawei from all or part of future wireless networks.
The United Kingdom, which hosted the meeting, on July 22 announced it has postponed its decision on Huawei. The government said it needed a clearer picture of the consequences of recent U.S. trade actions that affect Huawei. In May, the Trump administration barred U.S. chipmakers and software companies from supplying the Chinese firm, citing national security concerns.
This announcement came after news reports that former prime minister Theresa May’s government had decided in principle to block Huawei from crucial parts of the U.K.'s 5G network, but grant it limited access to less sensitive parts.
In addition to faster speeds and increased data capacity, the next generation of wireless technology is meant to support a vast expansion of telecom networks to connect self-driving cars, factory robots, medical devices and power plants. But this would increase susceptibility to cyberattacks.
Mr. Goodale said he was pressed on the issue by his U.S. and Australian counterparts, noting that Canada’s federal election is looming.
“I think the process is going to take longer than that,” the minister said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said Huawei should be banned from Canada’s 5G networks.
Alykhan Velshi, vice-president of corporate affairs for Huawei Technologies Canada, said the company hopes for a fair hearing. “We are respectful of the government’s processes, but hope and expect that any decision that’s made is based on technology, not politics.”
Mr. Goodale said Canada, like Britain, is “seeking clarity” on the nature of the security threat the U.S. sees in Huawei’s technology. He hinted that U.S. concerns might be linked to its trade war with China.
“You do have, from time to time, senior American officials commenting to the effect that this may be resolved in the context of trade negotiations,” Mr. Goodale said. “So my request to the United States, once again, is we need clarity with respect to the United States’ position.”
Until that happens, “we have concluded that it would be wrong to make specific decisions in relation to Huawei,” he said.
With reports from The Canadian Press and Reuters