U.S. warns al­lies to avoid Huawei 5G tech

Canada weighs op­tions as Chi­nese firm de­nies al­le­ga­tions of spy­ing

Toronto Star - - NEWS - ALEX BOUTILIER

As Canada con­sid­ers whether to al­low Chi­nese tech gi­ant Huawei to help build this coun­try’s next gen­er­a­tion of wire­less net­works, the United States is warn­ing its al­lies that the com­pany can use its prod­ucts to spy in coun­tries where they are be­ing used.

On Thurs­day, the U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment also laid crim­i­nal charges against the Chi­nese tech gi­ant, al­leg­ing the com­pany con­spired to steal trade se­crets from Amer­i­can com­peti­tors. The charges follow a report that Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves Huawei can “se­cretly ac­cess sen­si­tive and per­sonal in­for­ma­tion,” and says it has the ev­i­dence to back up the al­le­ga­tion, which Huawei has de­nied.

It all leaves the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment in the mid­dle of an­other fight be­tween the U.S. and China, vir­tu­ally guar­an­tee­ing that any de­ci­sion Ot­tawa makes on Huawei’s in­volve­ment in Cana­dian net­works will anger one of the su­per­pow­ers.

The Amer­i­can claims are not sur­pris­ing, says Stephanie Carvin, a for­mer in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst and a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs at Car­leton Univer­sity.

“Com­bined with other al­le­ga­tions that are be­ing made about Huawei, it does paint a pic­ture that this is a com­pany that’s will­ing to use ne­far­i­ous prac­tices, that will take sup­port from (the Chi­nese state), or at least doesn’t have any qualms about do­ing so,” Carvin told the Star. “And that’s the con­cern.”

But Ot­tawa should also con­sider the con­text in which the charges have been laid, said Fen Hamp­son, the di­rec­tor of the Norman Paterson School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at Car­leton Univer­sity.

“The tim­ing of the new charges strike me as or­ches­trated es­ca­la­tion against Huawei by U.S. au­thor­i­ties, which puts Canada in an even tighter vise than be­fore,” Hamp­son said.

Cana­dian of­fi­cials have al­most cer­tainly been given ac­cess to the Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence on Huawei, as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ratch­ets up pres­sure on al­lies to ban the Chi­nese tele­com. Cana­dian and U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials re­fused to comment on spe­cific in­tel­li­gence, but the two coun­tries rou­tinely share se­cu­rity in­for­ma­tion.

U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Robert C. O’Brien said Wednesday that the al­le­ga­tions against Huawei are “alarm­ing” be­cause Chi­nese com­pa­nies are re­quired to follow di­rec­tives from their gov­ern­ment.

“Strate­gi­cally, we see a com­pany that can use its po­si­tion in the mar­ket to ad­vance the aims of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party,” O’Brien said in a writ­ten state­ment to the Star.

“It is hard to see how any global telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firm could view the com­pany as a trusted provider of mo­bile hard­ware and soft­ware.”

At least one Cana­dian tele­com doesn’t seem to share O’Brien’s con­cerns. On Thurs­day, Telus Mo­bil­ity an­nounced it would al­low Huawei tech­nol­ogy in “non­sen­si­tive” por­tions of its fu­ture 5G net­work.

In a writ­ten state­ment, Huawei de­nied the U.S. ac­cu­sa­tion that it had built “back doors” into its prod­ucts that al­low the com­pany to covertly ac­cess data. The al­le­ga­tion was first re­ported by the Wall Street Jour­nal on Tues­day.

“Huawei is only an equip­ment sup­plier. In this role, ac­cess­ing cus­tomer net­works with­out their au­tho­riza­tion and vis­i­bil­ity would be im­pos­si­ble,” the com­pany said.

In 2018, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment launched a na­tional se­cu­rity review into 5G tech­nol­ogy, the next gen­er­a­tion of wire­less in­fra­struc­ture that will greatly speed up the trans­fer of data.

In Jan­uary, Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Bill Blair made clear that the review would con­sider is­sues be­yond cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

“Al­though the se­cu­rity con­cerns are very sig­nif­i­cant, we also want to make sure that we give full con­sid­er­a­tion to what is best for Cana­di­ans, what is best for the in­dus­try en­vi­ron­ment, best for our re­la­tion­ships with our al­lies and part­ners,” Blair told re­porters.

Canada’s de­ci­sion on Huawei could have important diplo­matic im­pli­ca­tions. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been ag­gres­sively lob­by­ing its al­lies to ban Huawei from build­ing their net­works, ar­gu­ing that al­low­ing the Chi­nese com­pany to in­stall 5G in­fra­struc­ture would com­pro­mise cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo sug­gested last year that the United States would think twice be­fore shar­ing in­tel­li­gence with coun­tries that al­low Huawei to build their net­works.

A chill on in­for­ma­tion shar­ing with the U.S. could pose ma­jor prob­lems for Canada’s na­tional se­cu­rity agen­cies.

Among the “Five Eyes” — the in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence al­liance of which Canada is a mem­ber — only Aus­tralia and the U.S have banned Huawei from their 5G plans. New Zealand and the U.K. have al­lowed the Chi­nese sup­plier limited ac­cess.

The U.K.’s re­cent de­ci­sion on Huawei in­fu­ri­ated U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, ac­cord­ing to a report in the Fi­nan­cial Times last week. Trump was “apoplec­tic” and “livid” over the de­ci­sion on a phone call with U.K. Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son, the Times re­ported, cit­ing of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton and Lon­don. A Cana­dian ban on Huawei tech­nol­ogy could deepen a diplo­matic rift be­tween Ot­tawa and Bei­jing, which be­gan when Cana­dian au­thor­i­ties ar­rested Huawei’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer at the re­quest of the U.S. Meng Wanzhou is fight­ing ex­tra­di­tion to the U.S., where she is wanted on fraud charges.

Since Meng’s ar­rest, China has de­tained Cana­di­ans Michael Spa­vor and Michael Kovrig on un­spec­i­fied na­tional se­cu­rity grounds, and im­posed trade re­stric­tions that have dam­aged the Cana­dian econ­omy.

Ban­ning Huawei tech­nol­ogy could also com­pli­cate the Lib­er­als elec­tion prom­ise to lower cell­phone bills by driv­ing up the cost of build­ing 5G net­works.

“It is hard to see how any global telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firm could view the com­pany as a trusted provider.”



A Cana­dian ban on Huawei tech­nol­ogy could deepen the rift over the ar­rest of CFO Meng Wanzhou at the re­quest of the U.S.

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