Australia blocked Chinese smartphone maker Huawei from its 5G mobile network on national-security grounds on Thursday, joining the United States in banning the global giant.
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not say whether Canada would follow suit with its two major intelligence-sharing allies.
Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecommunications-network equipment and the No. 3 smartphone supplier, has already been virtually shut out of the U.S. market because of national-security concerns and effectively banned from its 5G network.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters that he would be in Australia shortly, and "have an opportunity to hear more about their position.”
On Thursday, Australia announced that Huawei, which has laid down significant roots in Canada, and fellow Chinese telecom-equipment maker ZTE would be blocked from supplying parts for the development of the country’s future mobile network. 5G is the next stage in cellular technology and will require a massive infrastructure build-out in countries to deliver the faster download speeds promised.
Under Chinese law, companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work” as requested by Beijing, and security experts in the United States and Canada warn that equipment produced by firms such as Huawei could be compromised on behalf of China’s ruling party.
The United States and Australia are members, along with Canada, Britain and New Zealand, of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network. The measures taken by two allies are prompting former Canadian security officials to urge Canada do the same and bar Huawei from the Canadian 5G network.
Mr. Trudeau, speaking at the wrap-up of a cabinet retreat in Nanaimo, B.C., was asked whether Canada would also ban Huawei.
“We will make decisions based on the facts, on evidence and what is in the best interests of Canadians,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Canada does not allow the Chinese conglomerate to bid on federal government contracts, but all major Canadian telecom carriers are now heavily promoting Huawei’s latest smartphone and, as The Globe and Mail reported in May, the firm has established a vast network of relationships with leading research-heavy universities in Canada to create a steady pipeline of intellectual property the company is using to underpin its market position in 5G technology.
Two former directors of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) – Richard Fadden and Ward Elcock – as well as John Adams, the former head of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), told The Globe on Thursday that Canada should also ban Huawei from supplying equipment for a 5G network.
“The United States and the Australian approach may be the best one for Canada. I would continue to advocate it,” Mr. Fadden said. “In particular, the interoperability of the North American communication grids is pretty total and I know the United States is a bit worried about our approach.”
Canada and Britain have set up cybersecurity facilities paid for by Huawei where CSE officials test equipment for possible back doors that could allow Chinese hackers to take control of systems.
Mr. Fadden and Mr. Elcock said they are not confident the testing facilities are as adequate as a total ban.
“You are only [as] secure as the weakest link in the chain, and I think given what the Americans and Australians are doing, if we are not the weakest link in the chain, we are a weak link in the chain,” Mr. Fadden said.
Mr. Elcock said Canada’s divergence from the United States on Huawei could eventually lead Washington to take measures to insulate its communication networks from Canada.
“The fact we are not going in the same direction as the United States and Australia doesn’t mean the end of the world, but [it] does mean there is a potential for problems down the road,” he said.
Mr. Elcock said he thinks it’s unwise for Canada to allow Huawei to be a full participant in 5G mobile networks that companies are building in this country.
“Huawei will do what the Chinese government wants it to do,” he said, adding the Chinese government has been aggressive in intelligence-gathering, and Huawei “has the capacity to put stuff in that communications equipment that allows the Chinese state to access communications through those technology connections.”
Mr. Adams said Canadians need to understand that China’s government “are not the friendliest people in the world, and the whole business of protecting your intellectual property – the IT challenges – are very, very high and truly a problem with respect to those state-owned companies.”
Huawei Canada vice-president Scott Bradley told The Globe his firm has been working “openly and transparently” with the Canadian government and domestic telecoms for a decade to satisfy national-security concerns.
“Huawei Canada works openly and transparently with the Government of Canada and Canadian operators, as we have for over a decade, to ensure the security of Canada’s networks. We remain committed to this approach and to conducting our operations consistent with what is required by Canadian operators and Government now, and in the future,” he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton recently discussed the issue directly with Canada, stressing the need for both a continental China strategy that deals with the country’s economic might, and also more narrowly to block Huawei from dominating 5G telecommunications technology, one senior Canadian official briefed on the talks said.