Gavin Williamson has expressed “grave” concerns at the prospect of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei being involved in the UK’s new 5G network.
During a trip to Ukraine, the Defence Secretary said Huawei’s role in the network was “something we’d have to look at very closely”.
He said: “We’ve got to look at what partners such as Australia and the US are doing in order to ensure that they have the maximum security of that 5G network and we’ve got to recognise the fact, as has been recently exposed, the Chinese state does sometimes act in a malign way.”
His comments follow a warning this month from Alex Younger, the MI6 chief, who said Britain needed to decide how comfortable it was using Chinese-owned technologies within its communications infrastructure.
This month also saw Canada embroiled in a diplomatic stand-off with China after police arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, for allegedly violating sanctions on Iran. The Chinese subsequently detained two Canadians.
BT has said it will not use Huawei’s equipment within the heart of its 5G mobile network when it is rolled out in the UK, but still plans to use the Chinese company’s phone mast antennas and other products deemed not to be at the “core” of the service.
BT also confirmed that it was stripping out Huawei equipment from the core of its existing 3G and 4G networks.
A US-commissioned report recently warned that Beijing could force Huawei and other Chinese 5G equipment-makers to “modify products to perform below expectations or fail, facilitate state or corporate espionage, or otherwise compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability” of networks.
Earlier this month, New Zealand became the latest country to bar a local network from using Huawei’s 5G gear.
Huawei denies having any ties to the Chinese government beyond those of being a law-abiding taxpayer.
However, critics point out that Ren Zhengfei, its founder, was a former engineer in the country’s army and joined the Communist Party in 1978. There are questions about how independent any large Chinese company can be.