Don't tell us to go Huawei, Chinese ambassadors tell UK and France

Locking out network biz 'goes against the principles of a market economy and free trade', says diplomat

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The Chinese state has gone on a diplomatic offensive over Huawei and 5G, with ambassadors to the UK and France both accusing their host countries of discriminating against the company.

In a missive posted on the website of China's Paris embassy, Ambassador Lu Shaye bemoaned what he said was "difference of treatment of companies according to their country of origin".

Orange, one of France's largest domestic mobile operators, declared days ago that it would not buy Huawei gear for its 5G networks. In addition, the ambassador complained about individual French cities banning Huawei from local networking equipment contracts.

It is these moves that seem to have triggered Ambassador Shaye to condemn hardening French attitudes towards Huawei:

If, for security reasons, the French government really needs to impose constraints on operators, it should establish transparent criteria in this regard and treat all businesses in the same way. A difference in treatment of companies according to their country of origin will constitute overt discrimination and disguised protectionism. This goes against the principles of a market economy and free trade.

France's establishment is deeply worried about "souveraineté numérique", or digital sovereignty. While it has spent years talking about the concept, which boils down to France buying from French – or at least Western-owned – suppliers of critical digital tech, Huawei has quietly built up significant price and technical advantages with its 5G mobile network equipment line.

The French aren't alone in this line of thinking: US federal attorney-general William Barr suggested his country buy a controlling stake in Nokia and Ericsson.

Major steps in France's 5G journey will be made this year, including spectrum auctions and contract awards.

And they're moaning at Britain too

China's ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, joined his French counterpart by accusing Conservative MPs of conducting a "witch hunt" against Huawei – despite prime minister Boris Johnson, leader of the political party as well as the country, deciding to maintain the status quo (as well as slapping a 35 per cent limit on certain "risky" vendors) amid great fanfare a few weeks ago.

Ambassador Xiaoming told BBC presenter Andrew Marr: "Huawei is a private-owned company, nothing to do with the Chinese government... the only problem they have is they are a Chinese company."

His comments did not explain why the Chinese state is mounting a multi-nation diplomatic effort to back said private company.

British telco Vodafone is taking a £200m hit to strip Huawei equipment out of the core of its networks. BT is doing likewise, spending £500m to comply with the new British cap on Huawei equipment content as 35 per cent of a given mobile network.

Although the US has shrieked for years about the security threat posed by Huawei, it has not shown any evidence of such a threat. Britain's Huawei scrutineers, the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC), found plenty of evidence of pisspoor coding practices last year but did not disclose evidence of espionage-capable backdoors.

One of the key challenges for HCSEC is matching binaries supplied for testing with binaries as deployed to in-use Huawei network equipment. With differing binary builds as patches are deployed and loads are tweaked accordingly, closing the gap between what is given to scrutineers and what is actually in use on production networks is key to maintaining public, and public sector, confidence in the Chinese supplier. ®

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