Thierry Breton, European Union commissioner for internal market and consumer protection, industry, research and energy, pictured here in a file photo, revealed the EU position on Huawei Tuesday. Photo: AFP / Eric Piermont

Both the European Union and the United Kingdom on Tuesday rejected Washington’s request that they ban Huawei as a 5G supplier.

The EU will not ban Chinese telecom giant Huawei or any other company in Europe, a top official said,  despite intense pressure from Washington to shun the firm over spying fears.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, was to officially unveil recommendations to member states on Wednesday, but commissioner Thierry Breton told MEPs that Brussels will choose tight scrutiny over any blanket ban.

“It is not a question of discrimination, it is a question of laying down rules. They will be strict, they will be demanding and of course we will welcome in Europe all operators who are willing to apply them,” he said.

The EU, while never explicitly naming the Chinese giant, is struggling to find a middle way to balance Huawei’s huge dominance in the 5G sector with security concerns pressed by Washington.

The proposal is part of a so-called “toolbox” of recommendations that will guide the EU’s 27 post-Brexit member states as they build crucial 5G networks.

A ban on Huawei would ultimately be up to an individual member state, but the commission’s middle road recommendation gives cover to European capitals to resist pleas from Washington.

Britain disappoints US

Britain on Tuesday gave the green light to a limited role for Chinese telecoms giant Huawei in the country’s 5G network, in a decision that left the United States “disappointed” after Washington had called for a total ban.

Even though London decided that “high risk vendors” would be excluded from Britain’s “sensitive” core infrastructure, a US official insisted there was “no safe option for untrusted vendors to control any part of a 5G network,” which offers almost instantaneous data transfer.

Washington has banned Huawei from the roll-out of the fifth generation mobile network because of concerns that the firm could be under the control of Beijing, an allegation the company strongly denies.

The announcement came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepared to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week for talks in London likely to focus on Huawei and as Britain looks for a trade deal with Washington after Brexit.

The United States had threatened to limit intelligence-sharing with London in the event of Huawei winning a UK role.

But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told parliament: “Nothing in this review affects this country’s ability to share highly sensitive intelligence data over highly secured networks.

“GCHQ (Britain’s cybersecurity agency) have categorically confirmed that how we construct our 5G and full-fibre public telecoms network has nothing to do with how we share classified data.”

Johnson spoke to US President Donald Trump and “underlined the importance of like-minded countries working together to diversify the market and break the dominance of a small number of companies,” the British government said.

Balancing act

Huawei is one of the world’s leading network technology suppliers, and one of the few – along with European telecom companies Nokia and Ericsson – capable of building 5G networks.

The United States sees the company as a potential threat to cybersecurity and fears it would facilitate cyber espionage by the Chinese government, to which it is said to have close links.

Brussels and London are both grappling to find a middle way to balance Huawei’s huge dominance in the 5G sector with security concerns, as they look to improve connectivity.

Britain’s Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan insisted: “High risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks.”

But that failed to convince Washington, where a senior administration official said the United States was “disappointed by the UK’s decision.”

Meanwhile, research group GlobalData said a limited role for Huawei allowed “the UK to bow in part” to the US.

“A total ban would have required massive amounts of infrastructure to be torn out at eye-watering expense, and would have set the UK’s 5G roll-out back by years. It was simply never a practical option to ban Huawei completely,” GlobalData added in a note.

Unlike the United States, Britain has been using Huawei technology in its systems for the past 15 years.

Intelligence sharing

Analysts Fitch warned that the US could look to retaliate.

“The US has been putting a lot of pressure on its allies to ban Huawei, and failure to do so will raise questions about its strategy, as we expect it will look to retaliate, with threats to stop intelligence-sharing already made,” Fitch said Tuesday.

London’s move excludes Huawei from sensitive UK locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases, while their market share will be capped.

Huawei itself welcomed the news that it would have at least a part in building Britain’s 5G networks.

“Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track,” said Huawei Vice-President Victor Zhang.

Huawei is widely viewed as providing the most advanced alternative for super-fast data transfers behind technologies such as self-driving cars and remotely operated factory robots.

Existing providers of limited 5G network infrastructure in Britain include Nokia and Ericsson.

A number of UK mobile phone operators, including EE and Vodafone, currently sell 5G services – but it is so far available only in a handful of cities, notably London and Birmingham.

– AFP

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