LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson granted Huawei a limited role in Britain’s 5G mobile network on Tuesday, frustrating a global attempt by the United States to exclude the Chinese telecoms giant from the West’s next-generation communications.
Defying Britain’s closest ally in favor of China on the eve of Brexit, Johnson ruled that “high-risk vendors” such as Huawei would be allowed into the non-sensitive parts of the 5G network.
Whilst such high-risk companies’ involvement will be capped at 35%, they will be excluded from the sensitive core, where data is processed, and they will be banned from all critical networks and locations such as nuclear sites and military bases.
Such an explicit rejection of U.S. concerns that Huawei could be used to steal Western secrets dismayed President Donald Trump’s administration but was welcomed by the Chinese firm, founded in 1987 by a former People’s Liberation Army engineer.
Johnson and Trump spoke by phone shortly after the British decision was made public. “The Prime Minister 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 in a statement.
Speaking before the call, a Trump administration official said: “There is no safe option for untrusted vendors to control any part of a 5G network.
“We look forward to working with the UK on a way forward that results in the exclusion of untrusted vendor components from 5G networks.”
A British official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said excluding Huawei would have delayed 5G and cost consumers more, echoing warnings from the telecoms industry.
5G’s much faster data speeds and increased capacity will make it the foundation stone of many industries and a driver of economic growth.
In what some have compared to the Cold War antagonism with the Soviet Union, the United States is worried that 5G dominance is a milestone towards Chinese technological supremacy that could define the geopolitics of the 21st century.
But as a critical center for Chinese investment, trading and banking in Europe, Britain sided with Beijing, in one of the biggest public breaks with Washington in decades.
“I fear London has freed itself from Brussels only to cede sovereignty to Beijing,” said Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, adding there should be a review of intelligence sharing with Britain.
“Allowing Huawei to build the UK’s 5G networks today is like allowing the KGB to build its telephone network during the Cold War. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) will now have a foothold to conduct pervasive espionage … and has increased economic and political leverage over the United Kingdom.”