US Defense Secretary Mark Esper cranked up the rhetoric this weekend, painting China as his nation’s main adversary and warning allies about allowing Huawei to build its next-gen 5G network, risking their security cooperation and information sharing arrangements with American intelligence agencies, Defense News reported.
“Reliance on Chinese 5G vendors, for example, could render our partners’ critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation and espionage,” Esper said in an ill-timed, impact-intended speech at the high-level Munich Security Conference. “It could also jeopardize our communication and intelligence sharing capabilities, and by extension, our alliances.”
Adopting Huawei’s equipment on allies’ 5G networks, Esper said, “could inject serious risk into our defense cooperation.”
It was a tough, bullying statement partially at odds with other US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who offered assurances last week that US-UK intelligence sharing remained strong despite Britain’s decision to include Huawei in its nascent 5G network, the report said.
A day earlier, the White House’s point person for telecom policy, Robert Blair, told reporters: “There will be no erosion in our overall intelligence sharing,” the report said. But he added that Washington would take a “hard look” at the consequences.
If the messages were mixed on the response, Esper, Pompeo and US lawmakers of both parties (including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.) were unified in their assessment that China will be able to use Huawei’s 5G participation for cyber espionage and other alleged subversive aims, the report said.
“Huawei and other Chinese state-backed tech companies are Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence,” Pompeo said as part of a speech that claimed boldly “the West is winning” against authoritarian regimes, the report said.
Exactly what he meant by “winning,” is not known — it was just another sweeping generalization that’s been a common thread with this wayward administration.
Germany hasn’t yet decided whether it would adopt an outright ban on Huawei or restrictions, while the British government defied US President Donald Trump when it decided to let the firm build parts of the country’s network, the report said.
Beyond Huawei and 5G, Esper — sticking to his jingoistic line — called upon the international community to “wake up to the challenges presented by China’s manipulation of the long-standing international rules-based order that has benefited all of us for many decades.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping, Esper claimed, is taking his country “faster and further in the wrong direction — more internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy-handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture.”
It’s believed Esper’s comments will not be viewed well in Beijing, especially as it battles a deadly virus — in fact, it may be viewed as kicking China while it’s down, a dangerous and unethical combination, to say the least.