Photo: Reuters

Britain has identified “significant technical issues” in Huawei’s software engineering that could create risks in the country’s telecommunication networks, but has not supported US claims that the Chinese firm poses national-security and espionage threats.

The National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) said there there would only be “limited assurances” that such long-term risks could be managed in Huawei’s telecoms and electronics equipment.

However, the British agency took a more lenient line than the Americans, concluding that it was “unlikely” these issues were a result of “Chinese state interference” and suggesting that the Shenzhen-based company’s plans to address security flaws “could in principle be successful.” The report also found no evidence that Huawei was giving the Chinese government back-door access, a key accusation leveled by the US. In short, the NCSC said any security risks could be managed.

Washington has charged that Huawei offers China the ability to snoop on Internet and smartphone users who use the company’s products. It has been lobbying allies in Europe to lock Huawei out of their new 5G (fifth-generation) telecommunications infrastructure.

Germany defies US pressure

Germany has ignored American calls for a blanket ban on Huawei, announcing instead that the firm would be able to bid on its 5G contracts there. The European Union is reportedly considering more scrutiny of Huawei, but no prohibition on its activities.

For its own part, Huawei has called on other global suppliers to boost their transparency, including releasing source codes of their software and applications. The company’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, revealed during the company’s annual results conference on Friday that it allowed a British watchdog to review and test its source codes to prove their safety.

“Our entire development processes are transparent and so we open our source codes for the most rigorous and toughest testing…. I believe that through this practice we are setting a bar for the whole industry to keep up with us,” Guo said.

“Pressure from the outside has enabled Huawei to perform an even better job [on cybersecurity] than before,” he added.

President Xi Jinping with Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei in London in 2015. Photo: Reuters
Huawei’s former chairwoman Sun Yafang with UK leader Theresa May in February. Photo: Handout

Huawei, which has become a dominant player in some telecom segments and is steadily chipping away at the market shares of Apple and Samsung in China, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, reported a 19.5% jump in its full-year revenues in 2018 to a staggering US$107 billion.

Meanwhile, former Singaporean foreign minister George Yeo told the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong that countries banning Huawei would not stop any spying threat “when the US has been doing it too.” He said that all major powers could pose an intelligence risk, something that small countries might not be equipped to cope with.

‘The US is doing it too’

“The US was concerned about alleged spying by Huawei partly because if more countries used the company’s equipment, American intelligence could be prevented from doing its own snooping…. If you are a small country, it is very tough because you don’t have all the capabilities,” said Yeo, who oversaw Singapore’s foreign policies from 2004 to 2011.

Yeo revealed that Singapore had once asked BlackBerry to build a data center in the city state so that its data would not have to go through Canada.

Read more: Beijing may not need Huawei ‘back doors’

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