The UK now looks set to exile Huawei from its 5G networks

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The UK government looks set to reverse its previous decision to allow Huawei in its national 5G networks.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told officials to create plans to eliminate the use of Huawei’s equipment in national 5G networks by 2023.

An emergency review announced on Sunday will see the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in the UK evaluate whether additional US sanctions against Huawei will make it difficult to use the Chinese vendor’s technology.

A British government spokesman said: “Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks.”

It’s expected the review will be used to reverse the earlier policy of allowing Huawei’s equipment and prevent a revolt from MPs who’ve publicly criticised the decision.

The change in approach is said to be partly-driven by China’s lack of transparency during the coronavirus outbreak and growing opposition across Westminster about Chinese investment.

Following a multi-year security review, the UK government announced in February that it will permit the Chinese vendor’s equipment in national 5G networks – albeit with strict restrictions.

Under the conditions, Huawei’s equipment is not allowed in any core network and no more than 35 percent of an operator’s Radio Access Network. Furthermore, the vendor’s gear is not permitted near military, nuclear, or other critical sites.

Huawei, naturally, welcomed the decision. However, the decision came under fire from various other parties.

Ahead of the UK’s decision, US intelligence officials issued their British counterparts with a dossier highlighting their perceived risks of allowing Huawei’s equipment in vital networks.

President Trump hung up on Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a call earlier this year described as “apoplectic” over the UK’s decision. Johnson reportedly cancelled his summer visits to the US which were planned as the two allies seek to negotiate a large post-Brexit trade deal.

Members of Johnson’s government also criticised the Huawei decision. Conservative MP Bob Seely recently said “to all intents and purposes [Huawei] is part of the Chinese state” and involving the company would be “to allow China and its agencies access to our network.”

Seely tweeted on Sunday there are “now 59 MPs” in the Conservative Huawei Interest Group, including former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, which would be enough to block the original plans to allow Huawei’s equipment in 35 percent of the UK’s 5G networks.

In February last year, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) – the world’s oldest independent think tank on international defence and security – warned about the use of Huawei equipment.

“It is far easier to place a hidden backdoor inside a system than it is to find one,” the RUSI said. “In the likely, but unacknowledged, battle between Chinese cyber attackers and the UK’s Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC), the advantage and overwhelming resources lie with the former.” 

HCSEC reported in 2018 that it could no longer offer assurance that the risks posed by the use of Huawei’s equipment could be mitigated following the “identification of shortcomings in Huawei’s engineering processes”. Concerns were raised about technical issues limiting the ability of security researchers to check internal product code and the sourcing of components from outside suppliers which are used in Huawei’s products.

A follow-up report from HCSEC in March 2019 slammed Huawei as being slow to address the concerns saying that “no material progress has been made by Huawei in the remediation of the issues reported last year, making it inappropriate to change the level of assurance from last year or to make any comment on potential future levels of assurance.”

Even human rights groups criticised the government’s decision. 

Earlier this month, lawyers representing two Uyghur activists said they will send a letter warning the British government of court action if it presses on with the plan to grant the Chinese telecoms giant a role in national 5G networks – claiming it breaks UK human rights and EU procurement laws.

The activists campaign against Beijing’s treatment of Muslim minorities, predominantly in the Uyghur region but also across the west of China. Up to three million Muslims have been sent to barbaric “re-education centres” where reports are rife of torture and the separation of children from their families. Millions more are kept under strict surveillance in Xinjiang using draconian facial recognition technology.

A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute named Huawei as one of 83 brands linked to 27 Chinese factories which use workers transferred from Uyghur re-education camps. 

World affairs change fast, and it seems enough has changed in just the last few months that the UK government has already decided it no longer wants Huawei to be part of its national 5G networks.

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