Huawei Technologies Co., China’s telecom giant, is bidding to be part of many nations’ new 5G telecommunications networks. 5G communications will be far faster in transmitting data than the 4G systems it will replace.
President Trump has rejected any role for Huawei in the U.S. 5G network, which is evolving rapidly and will soon be common around the nation. Trump’s position is based on the simple fact that Huawei is an arm of the Chinese government and that any data transmitted or received on a Huawei network will be easily intercepted and made available to Chinese intelligence agencies.
That shouldn’t be hard to understand, but it wasn’t enough for some of our most important European allies to bar Huawei from helping establish their nations’ networks.
The recent history of signals intelligence — the interception and decoding of electronic and other communications — suggests that Huawei is positioning itself in much the same way that the CIA did in the Cold War. Various news reports have informed us that a company called Crypto AG was the predominant maker of encryption equipment used by many nations to encrypt and decrypt intelligence information. Conveniently, Crypto AG was owned and operated by the CIA, which became privy to all of the allies’ and adversaries’ information passed through Crypto’s equipment. (Nicely done, guys.)
Other reports inform us that Huawei can, and presumably does, covertly use “back doors” to listen in to cell conversations carried on its networks by private citizens, law enforcement, and government agencies. Huawei, of course, denies that capability and practice. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has stated publicly that the U.S. has evidence that it does both.
If you put these reports together, you have to conclude that any nation which allows its telephonic data — cellphones, computers, etc. — to pass through Huawei equipment will be susceptible to Chinese interception and monitoring by Chinese intelligence agencies.
Huawei has had that capability for over a decade, a fact made known to the UK and Germany last year. Nevertheless, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced recently that the UK will accept Huawei as one of its 5G network builders.
That led to a reportedly acrimonious conversation between Trump and Johnson (in which Trump reportedly accused Johnson of a betrayal), which resulted in nothing other than a delay in a planned visit by Johnson to the White House.
There are conflicting indications from the White House about the effect of Johnson’s decision on American intelligence sharing with the UK. His decision could — and should — result in restrictions on British participation in the “Five Eyes” (U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) partnership in sharing signals intelligence.
Germany, which also shares intelligence with the U.S., is taking a more cautious approach. Chancellor Angela Merkel, now in her last year of political power, has said she would wait until the March European Union summit to make her decision.
Merkel is much weakened by her overlong time in office, and the sudden resignation of her chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, from the leadership role in Merkel’s party. She is also worried by Trump’s threat of tariffs on European-made cars, the export of which to the U.S. is vital to Germany’s economy. She clearly wants political cover for her decision and will work hard to get French President Emmanuel Macron’s agreement to join in enabling Huawei’s participation in EU 5G networks.
The Trump administration is keeping up the pressure on Huawei. Last Thursday, a federal indictment was unsealed, which accuses Huawei of financial fraud and violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. The indictment also charges Huawei with theft of intellectual property regarding robotics, cellular-antenna technology, and internet-router source code.
One of Huawei’s top executives, chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada in late 2018 on charges alleging she defrauded four banks in order to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. She is being held under house arrest pending extradition to the U.S. Her extradition trial began last month.
There is nothing to say in Huawei’s — or Johnson’s — defense.
Huawei is subject to totalitarian control by China’s communist regime. It will, eagerly, cooperate in stealing intelligence information and intellectual property from industries and defense contractors, and it obviously cannot be trusted with any sensitive information. Enabling its equipment to be part of any nation’s 5G network inevitably results in that information being shared with the Chinese government.
Johnson’s decision is inexplicable. Huawei may be offering a lower cash price to establish the UK’s 5G network than American or British companies, but that price will not only be paid in pounds or dollars. It will also cost the UK whatever private and government secrets that may be routed across Huawei’s computer system. Neither the UK nor the U.S. can afford that cost.
At the Munich Security Conference last week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told our European allies that China is a preeminent threat pursuing advantage by any means and at any cost. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added that we are winning against totalitarian regimes. Esper is right, but Pompeo’s statement is far off target.
A very big part of “winning” against totalitarian regimes such as China’s is blocking their economic success. The coronavirus epidemic in China has weakened its economy — and thus its government’s hold on power — but it will recover soon enough. Iran’s economy, thanks to Trump’s sanctions, has fallen flat. Huawei’s violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran slow Iran’s economic collapse. North Korea essentially has no economy and is dependent on China for its regime’s survival.
Despite whatever hard feelings were generated by the Trump–Johnson conversation, Boris Johnson is a brilliant conservative. He has the opportunity to reconsider Huawei’s role in creating the UK’s 5G network and should reverse his decision. “Five Eyes” is too important to sacrifice on the altar of 5G network speed.