China took another international hit Tuesday when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reversed a decision made in January to allow the Chinese technology firm Huawei to have a prime role in shaping Britain’s 5G wireless network.
Johnson banned British companies from buying 5G wireless network equipment from Huawei as of the end of the year and ordered that anything currently being used in Britain’s telecommunications network be ripped out within the next seven years, according to Reuters.
The concept of a 5G network is that the wireless signals can move faster, expanding the ability to control appliances, security systems and multiple other items remotely.
“This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the UK telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy, both now and indeed in the long run,” digital minister Oliver Dowden said, according to Reuters.
“By the time of the next election, we will have implemented in law an irreversible path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks,” he said.
President Donald Trump, who issued an executive order in May banning Huawei from playing a role in America’s 5G network, had pushed for Britain to follow suit.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the U.S. is not alone in suspecting that Huawei is “beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.”
Although Chinese officials have said Huawei is not part of China’s government, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska scoffed at that claim while praising Britain for its actions.
“The UK made the right call today to kick the Chinese Communist spy ring out of their network. The special relationship is stronger now, as are our joint efforts to expose the threats the CCP and their surveillance puppet pose to the free world. Thatcher would be proud,” Sasse said in a statement Tuesday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also praised Britain.
Today’s decision by the UK to ban Huawei from its 5G networks advances Transatlantic security in the #5G era while protecting citizens’ privacy, national security, and free-world values.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 14, 2020
Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber policy, said U.S. officials tried to warn British officials about the dangers of letting Huawei into a 5G system.
“If you fully understand the Chinese Communist Party’s intent in the way the system works in China, there’s not autonomy for those companies. You just need to understand the characteristics of modern technology, updated instantaneously with a software patch that has the vulnerability or the disruption coded into it — and you can’t inspect your way out of the problem,” he said, according to The Washington Post.
Some framed Britain’s decision as part of a wider backlash against China in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and China’s refusal to promptly alert the world in the early stages of the outbreak.
“The coronavirus crisis and China’s very aggressive approach to shaping the narrative and capitalizing on global distraction have added to the concerns about China in Europe,” said Janka Oertel, Berlin-based director of the Asia Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, according to The Post.
“[T]he Chinese could have scored a big win,” Oertel said. “But their actions backfired.”
Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to Britain, said the decision was “disappointing and wrong.”
“It has become questionable whether the UK can provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for companies from other countries,” he said, according to The Post.
Others said Britain’s decision shows the tide is turning against China.
“The direction of travel in the biggest countries is toward a substantial reduction in Huawei’s market share, and a gradual phasing out of the company over time,” said Noah Barkin of the Rhodium Group, a New York-based independent research organization.
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