The United States is engaged in an all-out effort to convince the United Kingdom to reject Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from the country’s fifth-generation wireless infrastructure, warning of the national security risks posed by potential backdoor access by the Chinese Communist Party.
Both the Trump administration and the Senate have sent warnings to the U.K.’s leaders this week. The U.S. has long sought to convince allies not to use Huawei, threatening to stop sharing intelligence with countries that don’t ban the company in their high-speed wireless networks. The Justice Department charged the Chinese telecom company in a global racketeering scheme linked to Iran and North Korea last month.
U.S. officials said intelligence shows Huawei has been able to access mobile phone networks secretly through “back doors” designed for use by law enforcement for more than a decade, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The British government defied the U.S. in late January when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the U.K. would allow Huawei to supply equipment in some parts of the network. But several Tories in the House of Commons are trying to ban Huawei from the U.K.’s mobile networks entirely by the end of 2022.
Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “if our NATO allies incorporate Huawei technology, it may very well have a severe impact on our ability to share information, to share intelligence, to share operational plans, and for the alliance to conduct itself as an alliance.”
“I think we also need to work together, some countries, on alternatives to Huawei because otherwise, we will find the alliance compromised in due course,” Esper warned.
This echoed comments Esper made last month when he said, “Reliance on Chinese 5G vendors, for example, could render our partners’ critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation, and espionage. It could also jeopardize our communication and intelligence sharing capabilities and, by extension, our alliances.”
U.S. officials told Bloomberg that the National Security Council began an interagency review this week to determine what military and intelligence assets should be removed from the U.K. if Huawei participates in building the country’s 5G network.
One U.S. official said one of the purposes of the U.K. review was to assess the effects of “putting smart antennas and computers run by the Chinese Communist Party all over our closest ally.”
Attorney General William Barr said last month that U.S. national security is dependent on pushing back against China’s dominance in 5G technology. He noted China “can monitor and surveil” countries and companies that use 5G equipment from Chinese-backed companies.
The company has denied cooperating with Chinese intelligence.
Huawei was designated a “high-risk vendor” by the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre, and the U.K. government said in January that it would ban “high-risk vendors” such as Huawei from “core” 5G infrastructure but would allow Huawei to build the network and would allow its equipment to handle up to 35% of the nation’s 5G “periphery” system.
The U.K. considers the core separate from the peripheral network, which uses base stations and antennae to link mobile devices to the core, but the U.S. doesn’t believe such a distinction is possible.
China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law “requires Chinese companies, such as Huawei and ZTE, to support, provide assistance, and cooperate in China’s national intelligence work, wherever they operate.”
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of 20 senators, 13 Republicans led by Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and seven Democrats led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, sent a letter to U.K.’s parliament.
“We express our significant concern with the Government of the United Kingdom’s recent decision to allow Huawei Technologies in its 5G infrastructure,” the senators wrote. “Given the significant security, privacy, and economic threats posed by Huawei, we strongly urge the United Kingdom to revisit its recent decision.”
The senators asked for “commitments” to “work together to advance a comprehensive strategy to secure our 5G systems, which includes devising a comprehensive phase-out strategy to remove Huawei and other high-risk vendors that pose national security threats from our network infrastructure.”
On Wednesday, four Republican senators proposed a bill that would require the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to review the U.K.’s place on the foreign investment “whitelist” if it allows Huawei to build portions of its 5G infrastructure.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said, “Huawei is a global espionage operation masquerading as a telecom company,” and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas warned that “allowing Huawei into Britain’s 5G infrastructure will have consequences.” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the U.K.’s “misguided decision” means “the U.S. must now reevaluate how we engage with our important ally.” And Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said, “Huawei’s presence in the U.K.’s 5G infrastructure threatens the security of both our countries.”
The crackdown on Huawei is part of the Justice Department’s larger effort to stem China’s activities. The number of arrests related to Chinese economic espionage cases and cracking down on China-based hacking schemes has risen in recent years.
Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau has about 1,000 investigations open into Chinese technology theft that involve “just about every industry sector.”
Despite the company’s denials to the U.K.’s House of Commons in July about working with the Chinese Communist Party directly in its anti-Muslim crackdowns, a lengthy report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in November revealed Huawei’s involvement in the mass surveillance of millions of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region, where over 1 million Muslims have been placed in reeducation camps.
Hundreds of internal documents from the Chinese Communist Party leaked to the New York Times in November show the nation’s rulers were deeply involved in the planning and execution of the oppression in Xinjiang.