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Huawei, Huawei. Huawei, Huawei. Feeling hot, hot, hot: US threatens to cut UK from intel sharing over Chinese tech giant
War over Middle Kingdom's 5G gear heats up
Analysis Fallout over a leaked decision by the UK government to allow equipment from Chinese manufacturer Huawei into Britain's "non-core" 5G networks has continued into a second week.
On Monday, deputy assistant secretary at the US State Department Robert Strayer told the press that as far as America was concerned there is no difference between core and non-core networks, and again issued a threat to withdraw intelligence sharing from the Brits if their government approves the use of Huawei networking equipment.
"It is the United States' position that putting Huawei or any other untrustworthy vendor in any part of the 5G telecommunications network is a risk," Strayer said. "If other countries insert and allow untrusted vendors to build out and become the vendors for their 5G networks we will have to reassess the ability for us to share information and be connected with them in the ways that we are today."
The statement comes amid a political row in the UK over how the decision to allow Huawei equipment onto the majority of its 5G networks emerged in public in the first place. The green light was was given at a secret meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) last week, but details found their way into journalists' hands so quickly that the decision itself was nearly overrun by outrage over the fact it leaked.
Those with the most to gain from leaking the information – those opposed to the decision, including cabinet ministers Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Gavin Williamson, Liam Fox, and Penny Mordaunt – have all denied being the source.
But in a sign that the process is being closely watched by all sides, the Chinese government used an editorial in the Global Times on Monday to make its views known on the leak's providence: the US intelligence services.
"The decision to involve Huawei in 5G is more likely a matter of loyalty to the US. Washington demands that all its allies suppress Huawei. Some contend these diplomatic considerations should dominate the UK's final decision," the editorial reads before stating:
"Such unprecedented leaks reflect the ability of the US to intervene in UK affairs. Washington can infiltrate the UK's most confidential meeting and leak the information to the press in order to trigger immediate resistance from the opposition."
On the one hand, this could be Beijing spit-balling or muddying the waters. Journalists were being quietly briefed on all sorts of issues last week, as GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre was holding a computer security event in Scotland for the media at the time, and it was Britain's Daily Telegraph that broke the news of the NSC decision on Huawei.
On the other hand, it is an extraordinary thing to consider, bonkers even: that the US intelligence services have infiltrated the UK government at the most senior levels to the extent that cabinet ministers would put foreign interests ahead of their own government. But this is the era of Brexit Britain and anything is possible.
It would certainly be in the United States' interests to have the details of the NSC meeting made public immediately in order to rally support behind those opposed to Huawei in an effort to pressure UK prime minister Theresa May to change her mind before the policy is set in stone.
And the renewed threat to withdraw intelligence sharing – something that is unlikely to happen in reality – is seemingly geared to empower those in a position to pressure Theresa May to backtrack on the decision. May's government is highly unstable at the moment thanks to the ongoing Brexit mess and she needs as much political support as she can get.
The UK's decision is particularly important in the larger global battle between the US and China as it could prove to be the tipping point for a host of other countries in deciding whether to allow Huawei equipment into their next-generation mobile networks.
Europe has already made it plain that it will reject overt US pressure. EC president Jean-Claude Juncker said late last week that he would not block Chinese companies if they follow market rules. "We are not rejecting someone because he is coming from faraway, because he is Chinese, the rules have to be respected," Juncker told reporters when asked specifically about US pressure over Huawei and 5G networks.
Juncker's comment reiterate the position of German chancellor Angela Merkel who has also made it clear that she will not approve a ban on Huawei.
But the US campaign has had some success: Australia and New Zealand have agreed to a Huawei equipment ban and the reason they gave was the same being pushed by the US: that the equipment represents a security risk.