With Bob Seely, MP, The Telegraph, 24 April, 2019
The decision by the National Security Council to greenlight Huawei’s limited participation in the construction of Britain’s 5G network is incomprehensibly short-sighted. It is a cyber Trojan horse.
The NSC approval of some sort of half-way measure – which will allow Huawei to participate while limiting it to the periphery away from the “core” of the network – sounds reassuring. However, behind all the techno-babble is the hubristic argument that the UK Government believes that it can contain Huawei-related risks by technical means. Not only is this wrong, it reveals an approach to risk-assessment that is so narrow it is basically useless.
There are two vital questions that the Government needs to ask: What is Huawei’s relationship to the People’s Republic of China? And what are the risks to the UK – economic, security, and political – of including Huawei in its digital infrastructure? As far as we are concerned, from months of research towards a report that will be published next month, these questions have not been adequately answered.
We still lack enough knowledge about 5G to ascertain whether concepts about layered defence will still hold with the new system. There are arguments for and against the Government’s position, but not even the technical community is unified in this understanding. Indeed, the idea of merely allowing Huawei to build the 5G antennae has serious flaws related to the re-purposing of subcircuits.
We have been reassured that US warnings about Huawei are overblown because it is a “private” company. Huawei even invited scores of Western journalists to its massive campus in Shenzhen to share its heart-warming tale of the brave little firm that could, rising up against all odds to become a global powerhouse as an employee-owned firm. But this is simply not true. It is, to all intents and purposes, part of the Chinese state.
We know from the CIA’s briefings to its Five Eyes allies that Huawei is known to have been funded by Chinese state intelligence. It’s Chairwoman, Sun Yafang, between 1999 and 2017, worked for state security before assuming her role at Huawei.
Why should all this matter? Because Huawei is to all intents and purposes a state-owned, state-directed, and state-funded entity. They do not operate on capitalist principles, often work in line with state strategic direction, and are unfairly subsidised, outcompeting the local firms. Huawei’s rise in Europe from 2.5 per cent market share to 25 per cent market share occurred at least in part because it had a credit line of £30 billion, allowing it to undercut European competitors by 18 percent. That’s not capitalism as we know it, that’s a state-funded monopoly. And it is a state-funded firm which is operating to China’s state agenda.
Who controls communications will have great power over our societies in the future. Therefore, ownership of those communications structures, access to the information flows and the attitude toward human freedom, is paramount in shaping free societies in the 21 st Century and beyond. Huawei, whilst a private company, is the preeminent commercial communications firm of the Chinese state which, under Chinese law, must support the state’s intelligence work. By allowing Huawei to be a part of our hugely complex 5G networks, we take a risk with the future of free societies. How much risk is the question, not whether there is risk.
In all this, the risks are more varied and more concerning than simply network stability. They are economic as Huawei eats up Western 5G competitors; they are security-linked as Huawei maintains our networks, running our systems without transparency and without proper safeguards in place; and finally, they are social as Huawei enters Western society through our devices.
Last year Australia blocked Chinese 5G providers. The US, Japan, and India appear to be doing the same. We need to be mindful of our alliances and security partnerships. In 2017, we learned that Western companies had misused user-data to impact a democratic election. These were companies staffed by people who were raised in Western liberal societies, who for the most part think that democracy is a plus. Huawei’s workers have grown up in an increasingly-authoritarian China that has planned a complex Orwellian techno-surveillance state for the past 10 years and is now on the cusp of rolling it out.
If we can’t trust our own high-tech firms, what’s to say that we can trust the corporate arm of the Chinese Party-State with our data, our security, and our values? The simple answer is that we can’t.