10 February 2020

 

We'll never make Huawei 'safe'. It must be stripped from UK networks as quickly as possible.

The other day in the House of Commons, the Foreign Secretary admitted that the Government accepted that China was a threat to the UK. Yet at the same time, the Government decided to give Huawei significant involvement in our next generation communications structure – 5G.

This makes no logical sense. It is inconceivable that such a decision should be made in the face of all the evidence of the threat that China poses to us and our allies.

Consider that evidence. All Chinese firms are required to help with all intelligence gathering requests made by the Chinese authorities, and the Chinese state enjoys access to all data held by Chinese companies. Article 7 of the country's national intelligence law states: “All organisations and citizens shall support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts in accordance with the law”.

While Huawei says it would refuse any such demand from the Chinese government, this is not credible. After all, Huawei has an intimate history of involvement with the Chinese military and security services. Numerous leaders of Huawei, both past and present, have had ties to the People's Liberation Army, the Ministry of State Security (which focuses on external intelligence), and the Public Security Bureau (which focuses on domestic intelligence).

In 2013, the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee criticised the way in which Huawei had been allowed to build a position in the UK. It noted “a complacency which was extraordinary.” Vitally, when the decision to include Huawei was made, the Committee were astonished to find that ministers weren't even informed.

We are told that the UK believes there is no alternative, claiming that it is possible to protect the core of the 5G network while having Huawei only on the periphery. However, our main allies disagree. Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada of the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, alongside Japan, the Czech Republic, India and Vietnam, all believe strongly that Huawei poses a clear and present danger to their security. They also think there are alternatives: France, for example, has announced that it would instead build its 5G network using Ericsson.

Simeon Gilding, formerly of the Australian Signals Directorate, led the team tasked with seeing if cybersecurity controls could be designed to prevent hostile intelligence services leveraging their national vendors to gain access to Australia’s 5G networks. He concluded that it was not possible. Even the UK’s own Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre's oversight board stated it could only provide limited assurance that all risks from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks could be sufficiently mitigated over the long term. 

The problem is that nearly two decades ago, the Communist government of China made it a national priority to capture the global market in telecommunications. On the current trajectory, in 10 or 20-years’ time, that domination will be complete. 

The excuse that Huawei’s involvement enables wider market provision is utter nonsense. On the contrary, it limits it. As one successful security software provider said to me, market access is not reciprocal. China doesn’t operate anything like the open market the West does. It is impossible to bid in China for the same access as Huawei gets from the UK. Furthermore, Huawei effectively receives support from the Chinese state, which means that it can undercut any commercial fair price offered by a western telco. That puts permanent pressure on Samsung, Fujitsu, Nokia and Ericsson and feeds dependence on Chinese services.

I believe that the best course for the Government, given that it has inherited the existing involvement of Huawei, is to plan to clear the firm out of our systems as quickly as possible. Defence of the realm is the Government's number one priority, and this includes cyberspace. There can be no room in our systems for companies such as Huawei.

First published in The Telegraph