On Huawei and 5G, Canada must un­apolo­get­i­cally pur­sue our na­tional in­ter­ests


Richard Fad­den is a for­mer na­tional-se­cu­rity ad­viser to the Prime Minister.

Brian Lee Crow­ley is the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Mac­don­ald-Lau­rier In­sti­tute.

On Nov. 28, New Zealand joined Aus­tralia and the United States in ban­ning Chi­nese tele­com gi­ant Huawei from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the next-gen­er­a­tion mo­bile-data net­works.

One of New Zealand’s largest telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works had pro­posed us­ing Huawei’s equip­ment in its 5G net­works, but the gov­ern­ment re­jected it on the grounds that it posed “sig­nif­i­cant na­tional-se­cu­rity risks.”

This de­ci­sion has now placed Canada in the un­com­fort­able po­si­tion of be­ing a mi­nor­ity among its partners in the Five Eyes in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing com­mu­nity. While Bri­tain has not yet for­mally banned Huawei, Bri­tain’s main tele­com com­pany – BT Group PLC – has an­nounced they will not use Huawei 5G equip­ment.

Now, Wash­ing­ton has be­gun a cam­paign to dis­suade its al­lies from do­ing 5G busi­ness with Huawei on se­cu­rity grounds.

There are plenty of rea­sons why in­tel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als are alarmed by Huawei’s in­volve­ment in our 5G net­works.

When we hear the name Huawei, the com­pany wants us to pic­ture slick smart­phones and a nor­mal telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firm en­dowed with what its advertising calls a “higher in­tel­li­gence.”

Yet, it is not a nor­mal tele­com com­pany. Founded by a for­mer of­fi­cer of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA), Huawei is ex­tremely close to the up­per ech­e­lons of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China (PRC). In­deed, Huawei op­er­ates in what the PRC calls a strate­gic sec­tor, a core of their do­mes­tic se­cu­rity in­ter­ests. The com­pany sup­plies the PLA it­self and is of­fi­cially re­ferred to as a na­tional cham­pion.

China has a long his­tory of con­duct­ing ex­ten­sive cy­beres­pi­onage op­er­a­tions against the West. Canada is not im­mune:

There is ev­i­dence of the

Chi­nese hack­ing Nor­tel

(be­fore its demise in

2009), the Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil and the potash in­dus­try. Ot­tawa has ex­pe­ri­enced breaches in en­ergy, nat­u­ral re­sources and the en­vi­ron­ment, and China is widely thought to be the cul­prit.

The close re­la­tion­ship be­tween Huawei and a Chi­nese gov­ern­ment with a his­tory of cy­beres­pi­onage should be wor­ri­some. Add the fact that China’s 2017 Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Law gives Bei­jing the power to com­pel Huawei’s sup­port for its in­tel­li­gence work, and the red flags be­come too nu­mer­ous to ig­nore.

Rather than a “higher in­tel­li­gence,” a bet­ter catch­phrase for Huawei might be a “covert in­tel­li­gence” – one that is nei­ther in­no­cent nor friendly to the West.

Bri­tain has not yet banned Huawei, but they, too, are in­creas­ingly wary.

For in­stance, Bri­tain’s Huawei Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Eval­u­a­tion Cen­tre ad­mits the equip­ment it has tested might not match what Huawei uses, con­clud­ing that it can no longer pro­vide “long-term tech­ni­cal as­sur­ance … around Huawei.” Yet Ot­tawa re­lies on the ex­act kind of equip­ment test­ing to sup­port its claim that Huawei poses no na­tional-se­cu­rity threat.

Huawei al­ready has ex­ten­sive re­la­tion­ships with Cana­dian in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing, in­clud­ing a promised $50-mil­lion to 13 univer­si­ties to de­velop 5G tech­nol­ogy. Not only would Canada be re­liant, then, on Huawei soft­ware and hard­ware for its next gen­er­a­tion of wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy, but Huawei may well end up own­ing the patents of 5G tech­nolo­gies that arise from these re­search part­ner­ships.

Cu­ri­ously, Ot­tawa refuses to al­low Huawei to bid on fed­eral con­tracts, a strange po­si­tion for a gov­ern­ment that seems rel­a­tively san­guine about the Chi­nese gi­ant’s pres­ence in the de­vel­op­ment of a wire­less net­work that will soon trans­mit our most sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion.

It is not too late for Canada to re­ject the firm’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in 5G. Ot­tawa is cur­rently con­duct­ing a se­cu­rity re­view de­signed to an­a­lyze cy­berthreats from com­pa­nies such as Huawei. It is dif­fi­cult to see how such a re­view could con­clude that Huawei’s sup­port in 5G doesn’t pose a se­ri­ous and un­ac­cept­able se­cu­rity risk.

We have no rea­son to doubt the ex­per­tise and good faith of Canada’s cy­ber-de­fend­ers, but – and it’s a big “but” – they can’t know what they don’t know, and that fact alone in­volves con­sid­er­able risk. Al­low­ing Huawei ac­cess to our 5G net­work means we are giv­ing our cy­ber­ad­ver­saries the means to learn how to de­feat our de­fences. And once they have done so, it is too late.

Deny­ing Huawei par­tic­i­pa­tion in our 5G net­work is not a re­jec­tion of en­gage­ment with China. Rather, it is do­ing ex­actly what China is do­ing – un­apolo­get­i­cally and en­er­get­i­cally pur­su­ing our na­tional in­ter­est. Like many West­ern coun­tries, we are of­ten be­daz­zled by China’s eco­nomic po­ten­tial and there­fore fail to en­sure our na­tional in­ter­ests aren’t sac­ri­ficed in the pur­suit of ac­cess to Chi­nese mar­kets.

These two ob­jec­tives must go hand in glove. A fruit­ful re­la­tion­ship re­quires that we gain China’s re­spect. The in­dis­pens­able pre­con­di­tion of that re­spect is that we as­sert and pro­tect our na­tional in­ter­ests – and those of our al­lies – with vigour and clar­ity.

Al­low­ing Huawei ac­cess to our 5G net­work means we are giv­ing our cy­ber­ad­ver­saries the means to learn how to de­feat our de­fences. And once they have done so, it is too late.

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