World will be worse off if US tries to kill Chinese telecoms giants
- Isolating firms such as Huawei and ZTE will only fragment 5G standards and services, and stall technology convergence in an already deeply divided world
Japan has become the latest American ally to exclude Chinese telecoms giants Huawei Technologies and ZTE from public procurement or offering their 5G services. That’s unfortunate. Washington’s agenda is clear enough, but it’s questionable whether it tallies with the national and economic interests of its allies. Britain, Canada and Germany are still weighing up possible security risks and benefits posed by mainland companies such as Huawei. They should base their decisions solely on actual evidence, rather than political pressure, accusations and insinuations which at times border on xenophobia. Admittedly, this may be more difficult for Ottawa to do since the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei in Vancouver for possible extradition to the United States, and the detention by Beijing of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig.
In Britain, though, following a warning by Alex Younger, head of British intelligence service MI6, about the security of Huawei’s 5G networks, the telecom has agreed to a series of technical demands made by the National Cyber Security Centre. Huawei has also tried to demonstrate its commitment to 5G transparency by being the most active participant in the SA3 group under the 3GPP organisation. 3GPP is an international collaborative project between telecoms standards associations, known as Organisational Partners, from around the world; and SA3 is its subgroup devoted to security.
Huawei’s technical staff have spent more time this year attending SA3 meetings and submitting technical specifications and protocols to the subgroup than any other global tech companies including, interestingly, ZTE. Incidentally, US government agencies stayed away from those meetings in which the world’s most important 5G players took part. While it’s likely that no amount of evidence will convince Washington to change its mind as it clearly has a separate agenda in its dealings with China, Huawei and ZTE must be fully transparent as it is the only way to solicit fair treatment by foreign governments – by addressing their security and technical concerns.
Ultimately, though, 5G technology presents many security challenges and risks; countries shouldn’t just focus on well-known issues while being completely unprepared for unanticipated threats. On the other hand, if the intention of the West, led by the US, is to kill off China’s telecoms giants, the world will come out worse off. Mainland firms have already penetrated deep into global telecoms markets. For example, Europe, the Middle East and Africa account for 27 per cent of Huawei’s total sales outside China. Isolating Chinese firms will only create a Balkanisation of 5G standards and services and stall a global convergence in technology and online commerce. The world is already deeply divided. It doesn’t have to be that way in the electronic world.