The US & Britain Edge Closer To An Agreement On Huawei

Britain has averted a full-blown confrontation with the White House over Huawei, after the UK government also designated the Chinese technology firm a “high-risk vendor” and imposed a cap on its involvement in building the UK’s 5G telecoms network. 

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has now said he has had "candid" conversation with UK Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace on the subject,  although without elaborating on what form the “further’ reduction would take, although but he emphasised the importance of the intelligence-sharing agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Five Eyes partners. 

 Esper said US officials want to work with the United Kingdom on “a way forward that results in the exclusion of untrusted vendor components for 5G networks” in the UK and elsewhere. Both secretaries said their nations’ disagreement about Huawei was not over the nature of the threat of Chinese-manufactured telecom equipment, but about the best ways to deal with the threat. 

While the US is reportedly still disappointed with the decision to allow “an untrusted vendor” into the UK market, the security and economic relationship between the two countries was too important to jeopardise in a row over mobile phone technology.

The United States has pushed for an outright and total ban on Huawei and other Chinese telecom providers. The British government has taken a less extreme position and while Huawei is banned from networks that the government considers to essential to national security, such as for government use or infrastructure, the government has allowed Huawei to take a position in the commercial market, a position capped at 35% of that market, with the ultimate goal of eventually cutting them out of the market entirely, a position Wallace referred to as “Ban, cap, and cut.”

The UK has a lot of experience probing Chinese telecommunications gear. In 2010, the government established the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, or HCSEC, Oversight Board to better understand its threats to customer data and national security. Last March, the Center published a report that described “serious and systematic defects in Huawei’s software engineering and cyber security competence.” Huawei was formally deemed a “high risk vendor” because its Chinese ownership meant Beijing could in theory force it to carry out surveillance of British citizens in the future.

There is no evidence of deliberate security flaws in the company’s equipment but an official British assessment said: “The Chinese state has carried out and will likely continue to carry out cyber-attacks against the UK and our interests.” 

Britain’s spy agencies have long argued that any risks from using Huawei can be contained, and that US calls for a total ban are disproportionate.

The decision comes at a critical moment in the relationship with the  White House, as the UK Prime Minister prepares to press for a post-Brexit trade deal and has already irritated Washington by pressing ahead with plans to implement a digital sales tax on global internet firms, but despite that the White House has been reluctant to link the decision to future trade talks. The  UK Government should reduce Chinese telecoms company Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G mobile network to zero by 2023, former Conservative Party Leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said.

Huawei is not the only contentious issue threatening the British-American relationship. British diplomats are also fretting over differences with Washington over Britain’s plans for a digital services tax that would hit large American corporations like Google and Amazon, and its policy toward Iran.

Defense One:       Guardian:     Express and Star:    New York Times

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