Canada ig­nores U.S. warn­ing, makes Huawei in­ter­net deal

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY BARRY BROWN

TORONTO | Canada’s view of Huawei is far dif­fer­ent from that of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which sees the Chi­nese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant as a po­ten­tial se­cu­rity threat that U.S. com­pa­nies and for­eign gov­ern­ments should shun.

De­spite con­cerns about Huawei’s links to China’s mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, and de­spite the ar­rest of a top Huawei ex­ec­u­tive in Van­cou­ver last year and fight of ex­tra­di­tion to the U.S., the Chi­nese com­pany will help ex­pand high-speed in­ter­net ac­cess in Canada’s far north.

Crit­ics say the move is part of China’s ex­pand­ing pres­ence in the polar re­gion as it seeks a stake in the es­ti­mated $30 tril­lion in un­tapped re­sources in the Arc­tic Ocean.

De­spite a strong pres­sure cam­paign from Wash­ing­ton, of­fi­cials in Ottawa said that they were putting off a de­ci­sion on whether to ban Huawei from par­tic­i­pat­ing in Canada’s next-gen­er­a­tion 5G wire­less net­works.

The size of the Huawei deal in the far north is not large but has raised fears that the Chi­nese com­pany will ef­fec­tively have a mo­nop­oly on com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices in the vast but sparsely pop­u­lated re­gions. Huawei Canada said that it was work­ing with Cana­dian part­ners to con­nect more than 70 ru­ral and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties in the next five years, in­clud­ing com­mu­ni­ties in the Arc­tic, north­east­ern Que­bec, New­found­land and Labrador.

“Ev­ery­one de­serves to be con­nected,” Alykhan Velshi, a Huawei Canada vice pres­i­dent, told re­porters in Ottawa.

The Cana­dian con­tract is just one more sign that Huawei, the world’s big­gest maker of tele­phone equip­ment and the No. 2 smart­phone brand, has been able to ab­sorb the U.S. pres­sure cam­paign.

The com­pany’s global sales were up 23% in the first half of the year de­spite the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s black­list and a block­ade on ac­cess to key Amer­i­can-made com­po­nents and tech­nol­ogy. Liang Hua, chair­man of Huawei Tech­nolo­gies Ltd., told a news con­fer­ence in the com­pany’s Shen­zhen head­quar­ters that U.S. pres­sure had “gal­va­nized our peo­ple” but ac­knowl­edged that the com­pany could face dif­fi­cul­ties in the sec­ond half of the year.

Huawei’s abil­ity to op­er­ate north of the U.S. bor­der is all the more re­mark­able given Cana­dian of­fi­cials’ sen­sa­tional Dec. 1 ar­rest of Meng Wanzhou, the com­pany’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer and one of the best­known fe­male ex­ec­u­tives in China. The Cana­dian govern­ment said it was act­ing at the re­quest of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Huawei’s busi­ness ties with Iran, but Bei­jing’s re­ac­tion was fu­ri­ous. It protested the ar­rest and de­tained two prom­i­nent Cana­di­ans work­ing in China in ap­par­ent re­tal­i­a­tion.

In what is per­haps an olive branch to Bei­jing, Ottawa has signed a deal to let Huawei pro­vide high-speed in­ter­net ac­cess to 70 com­mu­ni­ties across Canada’s Arc­tic re­gion. Though Huawei’s role in the pro­ject is small, crit­ics worry about China’s grow­ing pres­ence across the polar re­gion.

Mr. Velshi said of the two men held by the Chi­nese govern­ment, “Ob­vi­ously we’re con­cerned, like all Cana­di­ans are con­cerned, about their well-be­ing.

“This is a time of real ten­sion be­tween Canada and China, and it can only be solved by gov­ern­ments,” Mr. Velshi added.

Michael By­ers, who teaches global politics and in­ter­na­tional law at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia in Van­cou­ver, said Huawei’s role in the wiring of Canada’s north is not a cur­rent se­cu­rity risk. The fear is that, if Huawei gains a foothold as the only high-speed in­ter­net provider in the area, it could turn off in­ter­net ac­cess to those Cana­di­ans in the event of a Cana­dian-Chi­nese trade war.

“This deal is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing,” he said, but it plants a new vul­ner­a­bil­ity in Canada’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions and se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.

Huawei fears

Some Cana­di­ans share the U.S. govern­ment’s fear about Huawei’s back­ground and in­ten­tions.

Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment John McKay of the rul­ing Lib­eral Party of Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said the is­sue with Huawei is that this foothold could give China lever­age to use against Canada in the fu­ture.

“I don’t think Canada is mon­i­tor­ing this,” said Mr. McKay, a for­mer chair­man of the Canada-United States Per­ma­nent Joint Board on De­fense.

Mr. Velshi re­jects as­ser­tions that Huawei is too closely aligned with the Chi­nese govern­ment and is obliged to co­op­er­ate with Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. Ev­ery Huawei em­ployee in Canada fol­lows Cana­dian laws, he said.

The per­cep­tion that Huawei’s Cana­dian of­fices re­sem­ble “Dr. Evil’s lair,” where em­ploy­ees toil away “at the lat­est world-end­ing scheme, is false,” he added.

Aus­tralia and New Zealand have banned Huawei from hav­ing any role in their 5G net­works, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is press­ing Canada and Euro­pean gov­ern­ments to fol­low suit. But the pres­sure cam­paign has been mixed, in part be­cause of the qual­ity and price com­pet­i­tive­ness of Huawei’s net­work prod­ucts.

Pres­i­dent Trump fur­ther mud­died the wa­ter by sug­gest­ing that the U.S. pres­sure cam­paign against Huawei could be eased if Bei­jing agrees to a ma­jor bi­lat­eral trade deal. Some Cana­di­ans said that of­fer undercuts U.S. claims that the op­po­si­tion to Huawei is based on se­cu­rity con­cerns.

Un­der the deal for the far north, Huawei will build the ra­dio and an­tenna in­fra­struc­ture to sup­ply high-speed in­ter­net to about 200,000 peo­ple as part of Mr. Trudeau’s multi­bil­lion-dol­lar com­mit­ment to up­grade high-speed com­mu­ni­ca­tions across Canada.

Huawei’s pro­ject in North­ern Canada is part of China’s long-range plan to ex­pand its pres­ence in the Arc­tic and join in the man­age­ment and ex­ploita­tion of the nat­u­ral re­sources and trans­port routes in the rapidly warm­ing polar sea.

China’s role as an in­ter­na­tional ac­tor in Arc­tic af­fairs and treaties dates back al­most 100 years. In 2013, China be­came an of­fi­cial ob­server at the Arc­tic Coun­cil and in 2018 de­scribed it­self as a “near-Arc­tic State.”

China is build­ing a nu­clear-pow­ered ice­break­ing cargo ves­sel, and the coun­try maintains polar re­search sta­tions in Ice­land and Nor­way. In 2017, China’s ice­break­ing re­search ship the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) be­came the first of­fi­cial Chi­nese ves­sel to cross the Arc­tic Sea by way of Canada’s North­west Pas­sage.

The U.S. and Rus­sia have been ex­pand­ing their pres­ence in the far north, and now China is in­creas­ing its “navy ac­tiv­ity in the Arc­tic wa­ters,” Univer­sity of Cal­gary po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Robert Hue­bert told CBC Ra­dio.

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