Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is staying mum on whether his government might join other allies in banning or restricting Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies from supplying gear for next-generation 5G wireless networks.
Canada remains one of two members of the Five Eyes intelligence-pooling alliance – which includes the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Britain – that have not taken any action to ban or curb the Chinese telecommunications giant from supplying 5G equipment. New Zealand rejected one wireless firm’s proposal to use all-Huawei gear in a 5G network, but has not set new limits.
This week, though, Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) announced it’s conducting a review of the security implications of new U.S. sanctions on Huawei and the impact these might have on British networks. The U.S. recently moved to block Huawei’s access to established global semiconductor chip supplies – a measure that could force the Shenzhen giant to seek alternative sources.
The inquiry comes after British media outlets reported May 22 that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instructed officials to draw up plans that would have Huawei’s involvement cut to zero by 2023. This would be a shift after a January decision where London set limits on Huawei gear in 5G networks, but did not bar it.
“Following the U.S. announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the U.K.’s networks.” the British government said in a statement.
Asked about the British move on Monday, Mr. Trudeau would say only that his government is still consulting its national security agencies on what to do about Huawei. The Liberal government has been referring to this review when asked about the company for more than one year and eight months.
“On the issue we have been taking advice from our security officials. We have been working with them on what is the right path forward for Canada,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters. “We are working closely with our allies and watching what they do to make sure we are all doing the things necessary to create economic opportunities and growth for our country while making sure the safety and security of our infrastructure, our businesses, our people is tantamount.”
Christian Leuprecht, a professor at Royal Military College and Queen’s University, said Britain is likely a “good bellwether in terms of the shifting trade-offs for other middle powers” on China, “especially ones that are part of the Five Eyes alliance” as countries recalculate the balance between economic priorities and security priorities.
“The same issues that are driving the new review in the United Kingdom are the issues that will be driving decisions in Canada,” Prof. Leuprecht said.
He said this would include not only the vulnerability of Huawei gear to exploitation by the Chinese government, but also Huawei’s complicity in human-rights abuses.
Prof. Leuprecht said a decision by Britain to ban Huawei networking gear from 5G would certainly limit Canada’s room for manoeuvrability on its own decision.
He said Canada’s lengthy delay in a decision on whether to exclude Huawei appears to be an effort to discourage wireless firms from using the gear. “My guess is they were hoping ‘by creating uncertainty for the telecom firms, let’s hope they ultimately don’t use Huawei equipment,' ” he said.
But that has failed, Prof. Leuprecht noted, because both Bell and Telus have announced they intend to incorporate Huawei gear in their 5G networks.
Alykhan Velshi, vice-president of corporate affairs for Huawei Technologies Canada, said a negative decision on 5G won’t spell the end of the Chinese giant’s presence in Canada.
Over the past decade, for instance, Huawei has established a vast network of relationships with 22 Canadian universities and research institutions to create a steady pipeline of intellectual property that will aid its development of mobile technology.
“While we are hopeful for a favourable decision on 5G, we have a variety of business operations [in Canada] including network infrastructure, consumer products, enterprise support, research and development and more,” Mr. Velshi said.
“We won’t ever walk away from our customers, from Canada, or our installed base.”
The Globe and Mail reported in February that Canada’s military and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service want Ottawa to block Huawei, arguing it is not a trusted vendor and its 5G equipment could be used for Chinese government espionage or to cripple other countries’ critical infrastructure during an international crisis.
The Globe also reported that the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), which is responsible for cybersecurity and electronic surveillance, has countered this by saying robust testing and monitoring of Huawei’s 5G equipment could mitigate potential security risks.
The Globe has reported several options are ready to present to the federal cabinet that include maintaining the status quo, toughening scrutiny of Huawei’s 5G wireless systems and an outright ban.
Under Chinese law, companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work” as requested by Beijing, and security experts in the U.S. and Canada warn that equipment produced by firms such as Huawei could be compromised on behalf of China’s ruling party.
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