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UK seeks clarity on US Huawei position before 5G involvement

Image credit: reuters

The UK is still seeking clarity on the US position towards Huawei before deciding whether the firm should be allowed involvement in the construction of 5G networks, according to culture secretary Jeremy Wright.

The US has been flip-flopping over its position towards Huawei. A month after it was banned from working with US firms, President Donald Trump announced that this restriction would be lifted

But it has remained on the entity list and Huawei announced this week that it was laying off two-thirds of workers at its US research centre.

The UK has also been cautious to embrace the Chinese firm over cybersecurity and espionage concerns as well as fears that if it relaxed its position, the US could rescind key data-sharing agreements.

Wright said the UK is still seeking clarity on the implications of US action against the Chinese firm, adding it would be “wrong to make specific decisions” before this has been achieved.

He also told MPs the Telecoms Supply Chain Review found the “lack of diversity” creates the “possibility of national dependence on single suppliers, which poses a range of risks to the security and resilience of UK telecoms networks”.

Speaking to E&T last week, Huawei UK CEO Jerry Wang said that a 5G network ban would be a “big loss” to the UK but noted that the company is big enough to weather a loss of business in the country. 

Wright said the UK will pursue a “targeted diversification strategy” and will support the “growth of new players in the parts of the network that pose security and resilience risks”.

Legislation will also be brought forward to underpin a new set of “telecoms security requirements”, overseen by Ofcom and government.

Speaking in the Commons, Wright said: “The Government is not yet in a position to decide what involvement Huawei should have in the provision of the UK’s 5G network and I want to explain why that is.”

After detailing the US action, he said: “These measures could have a potential impact on the future availability and reliability of Huawei’s products, together with other market impacts, and so are relevant considerations in determining Huawei’s involvement in the network.

“Since the US government’s announcement, we have sought clarity on its extent and implications but the position is not yet entirely clear. Until it is, we have concluded it’d be wrong to make specific decisions in relation to Huawei but we will do so as soon as possible.”

Earlier, Mr Wright spoke about the wider review, and said: “The review has concluded that the current level of protections put in place by industry are unlikely to be adequate to address the identified security risks and deliver the desired security outcomes.

“So to improve cybersecurity risk management, policy and enforcement, the review recommends the establishment of a new security framework for the UK telecoms sector. This will be a much stronger, security-based regime than at present.”

On encouraging a diverse supply chain, Mr Wright said the Government will also pursue a “targeted diversification strategy” and added it will support the “growth of new players in the parts of the network that pose security and resilience risks”.

He added: “We will also seek to attract trusted and established firms to the UK market.”

Later, Wright said the rollout of the UK’s 5G network might be delayed amid concerns about the involvement of the Chinese-telecom firm in developing the network.

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