US concern at Huawei isn’t bluff or bluster
By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
January 21, 2020
If you had a neighbour who came over and rummaged through your garage tools every day, occasionally slipping silverware from your kitchen, would you trust him to redo the locks on your house? How about to install a state-of-the-art new security system? Of course not.
Yet when it comes to updating telecommunication networks to 5G, some countries are considering doing effectively that with Huawei, a Chinese state-directed company with a history of alleged intellectual property theft and enabling the spread of digital authoritarianism. Despite warnings from its own experts, I am alarmed to see the UK framing its decision on 5G as a false choice between Huawei today or lagging behind forever. Compelling market alternatives to Huawei exist, despite Beijing’s best efforts to tilt the market toward Huawei through subsidies and political pressure.
Those who argue in favour of using Huawei’s equipment contend that the risks can be mitigated, especially if Huawei’s kit is reduced to “non-core,” non-essential parts of the network. But the strength of 5G is that the core and periphery of a network are one and the same, meaning that giving Huawei any access poses a tremendous risk.
Democratic societies also cannot ignore Huawei’s complicity in China’s policy of mass internment in Xinjiang. Since 2014, it has collaborated with China’s public security forces to build the surveillance systems in the region. Beijing has locked up over 1 million Uighurs and other minorities in China, provided financial incentives for other companies to use forced labour, and instituted a policy of mandatory cultural reeducation.
But there is also simpler question at hand: why rush toward Huawei, while there are other, safer options available?
European companies Ericsson and Nokia, and Korea’s Samsung all offer alternatives to Huawei’s equipment. These firms are based in democratic states with functional legal systems and conduct business with fairness and transparency. Their ownership structures are clear. Their legal responsibilities to their home governments are clear. None of these things can be said of Huawei or the Communist Party of China.
By wisely deciding to avoid Huawei, the United States, Japan, Australia, Czech Republic, New Zealand, and others are facilitating an emerging 5G market protected from China’s predatory economic practices and national security threats. Further, there is a chance to join efforts to come up with promising alternatives.
In the US, for example, we have put forward legislation to create an innovation fund for 5G technologies at home and abroad. Rejecting Huawei would not mean the UK going it alone, but joining a coalition of like-minded countries determined to ensure effective, market-based alternatives to Huawei are available. If the UK rejects Huawei, it strengthens this market by adding the world’s fifth-largest economy.
Huawei presents potential clients with a set of false choices: between themselves and no one; choose them today or be left behind forever. This dishonest framing endangers UK security and risks the country’s autonomy. We should not mince words: opening the door to Huawei would effectively expose the inner-workings of British national security, industry, and society to Chinese ears for a generation. It would be a tremendous mistake.
The UK should not underestimate the level of concern about this decision in the US. It is not bluff or bluster. Rather, when the administration warns of the national security damage, it represents a genuine plea from one ally to another.
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