- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Britain on Tuesday said it would allow China-based telecommunications giant Huawei to participate in the building of its next-generation 5G communications network, rebuffing direct appeals from top Trump administration officials who said the company was too closely tied to China’s military and intelligence services and presents a major security threat.

The decision by the government of Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson will allow Huawei to play a restricted role in Britain’s advanced 5G wireless network, considered the technological cornerstone for such new technologies as driverless cars and faster internet speeds. London’s decision was being closely watched by a number of other U.S. allies preparing to build their own national 5G networks.

“Intelligence sharing will not be put at risk or would ever be put at risk by this government,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told lawmakers Tuesday.

The British government announcement did not refer to Huawei by name, and said the new guidelines will restrict “high-risk vendors” from “core” parts of the 5G network and place a 35% cap on vendor access to “nonsensitive” portions. Huawei is widely considered the market leader on price and reliability on 5G technology.

But even a restricted role for Huawei was a rebuke to the Trump administration, which has lobbied heavily to block Huawei’s rise. The decision was even more painful as Britain is a key member of the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance with the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Australia and New Zealand have already banned Huawei from their 5G networks.

A White House official told Politico there was “no safe option for untrusted vendors to control any part of a 5G network,” but U.S. officials appeared to be careful not to make a full break with London. President Trump and Mr. Johnson talked by phone after the Huawei decision was announced Tuesday, the White House said.

Anger on the Hill

The reaction was more pointed on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, blasted the U.K. government’s decision in a statement, asserting that China’s ruling Communist Party is using Huawei to “infect” the Five Eyes alliance. “Here is the sad truth: our special relationship now is less special now that the U.K. has embraced the surveillance state commies at Huawei,” Mr. Sasse said.

Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat and a former top telecommunications executive in the private sector, urged the British government to be open to Huawei alternatives as it builds out its networks.

“I am disappointed by the U.K.’s decision today, especially since the security risks are so well understood,” Mr. Warner said. “But under current circumstances, I remain committed to working with the U.K. and other key allies to build more diverse and secure telecommunication options that provide competitive alternatives to Huawei.”

Huawei officials, who have consistently denied U.S. charges that the company is a security risk, praised the British decision.

Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang commended Britain’s National Security Council for making what he called an “evidence-based decision.” Huawei provides “a cost effective and high-quality alternative to its main rivals,” Nokia and Ericsson, Mr. Zhang said.

Huawei is reassured by the U.K. government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll out on track,” Mr. Zhang said.

British intelligence officials have argued a total ban was an overreaction to the security threat posed by Huawei, and British officials said Huawei’s market dominance made it hard to ban the company entirely, at least for now.

In his talk with Mr. Trump, “the prime minister underlined the importance of like-minded countries working together to diversify the market and break the dominance of a small number of companies,” the British government said in a statement late Tuesday.

Even so, the decision was not universally welcomed in Britain.

Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party and a longtime political ally of Mr. Trump, called the Huawei agreement a “terrible decision” shortly after news of the decision broke.

“This is bad for national security, an insult to our closest friends and a sign that our establishment has been paid off by China,” Mr. Farage tweeted.

— This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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