Huawei graphic, 5G

Huawei on the defensive as threat of UK 5G exclusion hovers

Image credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

As the UK government considers making a U-turn on its decision to permit Huawei a limited role as a supplier for the country's 5G infrastructure, the Shenzhen-based telecommunications giant is launching a full-throttle media campaign to bolster its reputation.

In January, the UK government gave Huawei the green light to supply up to 35 per cent of the 5G Radio Access Network: the peripheral, non security-critical parts of the infrastructure. The decision attracted an angry response from both the Trump White House and also from Tory backbenchers closer to home, who continue to threaten a rebellion against Huawei’s inclusion and favour the company’s equipment being entirely removed from UK infrastructure by 2023.

Allegations made against Huawei by US authorities include that the company could act as a clandestine earpiece for the Chinese Communist Party. Huawei has repeatedly rejected these accusations.

The Trump administration recently introduced additional restrictions against Huawei, effectively preventing the company from using technology with US origins. Subsequently, the UK government commissioned an urgent National Cyber Security Centre review, which may conclude that Huawei is no longer in a position to provide equipment for UK mobile operators, in turn paving the way for the government to make a U-turn on January’s decision.

With this 'Sword of Damocles' hanging over Huawei’s future in the UK, the company is initiating a massive media campaign to reject the perception that it is a national security risk. Instead, it aim to promote its 20-year-long history in the UK and its “commitment” to the country.

Huawei promised to bring “fast, reliable mobile and full-fibre broadband networks to every part of the country” in an open letter splashed as full-page advertisements in UK newspapers.

“Huawei grew up in the UK. We’ve been here for 20 years and were integral in building the 3G and 4G networks we all use every day,” Huawei VP Victor Zhang said in a statement. “Today’s letter underlines Huawei’s ongoing commitment to improving connectivity for everyone in the UK. As a private company, 100 per cent owned by employees, our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies build a better-connected UK.”

“Britain needs the best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers, all of which means more secure and more resilient networks. This is fundamental to achieving the government’s gigabit broadband target by 2025. This is our commitment to the UK.”

The letter also boasts of Huawei’s role in job creation, investment in R&D and training engineers.

Speaking to reporters today, Zhang said he hoped the commitment would inform Britons that Huawei is security conscious, has excellent technology and cares about the UK, as well as dispelling some myths about the company. He said he believed the government would take an “evidence-based approach” when reviewing Huawei’s position.

Zhang repeatedly insisted that it is too early to draw any conclusions about the impact of the new US restrictions on Huawei’s future in the UK’s 5G rollout: “We strongly oppose the amendment made by the US Department of Commerce […] this will definitely damage the global supply chain of the semiconductor industry, which lots of industries rely on. It is too early to [make] conclusions about the impact, so we are working closely with our partners and suppliers to take a full and comprehensive examination of these new rules.”

However, Zhang added that Huawei had already survived one blow from the US government, after being added to the 'Entity List' last year.

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