The UK’s decision to reconsider the use of Huawei in its 5G networks resulted in a predictable backlash from China, with Beijing threatening to punish HSBC and pull investment from major British infrastructure projects. It appears the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees much more than mere financial benefit in having Huawei embedded in foreign 5G networks. It’s no wonder that so many countries are re-evaluating their partnerships with Chinese firms.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab recently remarked that it wasn’t just the devastation of Covid-19 that took the shine off China, but the fact that the CCP didn’t live up to the agreements that it made. The crackdown on Hong Kong is a case in point. As Mr Raab said: “It comes down to an issue of trust. Otherwise why would anyone trust them with other deals we might make?”
Governments and businesses around the world are asking a similar question regarding 5G systems that carry their most private information and intellectual property: who do we trust? The primary choices are two world-class European vendors, Ericsson and Nokia, and two Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE. Both Huawei and ZTE are required to abide by China’s National Intelligence Law, by turning over any and all data to the Chinese government upon request.
US telecom providers have chosen wisely. They are successfully deploying Ericsson and Nokia throughout their 5G systems, and are working with other trusted firms for further expansion. They understand that a secure “edge” is just as important as a secure “core”, because it’s all part of an integrated system. And they know that talk of “secret back doors” is irrelevant because software updates provide a front door every day through which 5G vendors have the capability to pull data and interfere with networks.
Initiatives, such as those by the newly-formed Open RAN Policy Coalition, show great promise in accelerating innovative, secure, and trusted alternatives to Huawei. The US looks forward to collaborating with our partners in Europe and around the globe to further advance these technologies. The US government is also accelerating its efforts to protect 5G security, as exemplified by three recent announcements.
First, we secured a $12 billion investment from the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to build a leading-edge semiconductor foundry in America, and bring eight of their suppliers with them, creating thousands of jobs.
Second, we unveiled a new rule requiring chip companies to obtain a licence from the United States to sell certain 5G chips to Huawei that can only be produced with sophisticated US technology. It is imperative that Europe adopt similarly stringent export controls to keep critical tech out of the hands of the CCP.
Third, we unveiled the 5G Clean Path initiative, requiring all data entering or exiting US diplomatic facilities to transit only through trusted equipment, thus reducing the risk of Huawei or the CCP siphoning away our sensitive information. The US encourages all of our partners – both companies and countries – to adopt similar 5G Clean Path models. Many already are. Across Europe, 5G “clean countries” are emerging that allow only trusted vendors in their 5G networks. The largest telecom companies across the globe, including Orange in France, Reliance in India and O2 in the UK, are also becoming “clean telcos”.
The coercion experienced by the UK is only one of the authoritarian tactics that China employs in its battle to dominate 5G. Concealment, coercion, and co-option is a common three-pronged strategy of the CCP, including in its Covid-19 response. The CCP brazenly concealed the initial outbreak, co-opted the crisis to turn a profit, and coerced other nations through “face-mask diplomacy” to do its bidding. Those three strategies are also on display in Hong Kong.
To prevent CCP authoritarianism from winning the day on 5G, we must maintain solidarity. Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently remarked on the China challenge, “We have to make sure that Europe and North America stand together.” As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said, “The United States stands with our allies and partners against the CCP’s bullying and we stand ready to assist our UK friends with any needs they have.” That goes for all freedom-loving countries, because the CCP’s 5G strategy is a real and urgent threat to all who value liberty and justice around the world.
Keith Krach is the US Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment