By Katim S Touray
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who took the mantle from Prime Minister May, also prevaricated on deciding on the Huawei issue. First, he hinted during the 2019 UK General elections campaign, that he might shut out Huawei out of the UK’s infrastructure to appease other Five Eyes partners. Following his emphatic victory at the elections, Prime Minister Johnson got a nod from the UK’s security chiefs to allow Huawei in the UK’s non-core 5G network. On January 28, 2020, the UK government announced that it would restrict high-risk vendors such as Huawei from the core of the UK’s 5G network, and limit them to no more than 35 percent of the equipment 5G market. The UK government thus defied, and dealt a huge blow to the US government, which had earlier on waged a massive campaign, and engaged in arm-twisting to get the UK government to ban Huawei from the UK’s 5G network.
Huawei also faced huge challenges in other European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic in its efforts to develop markets for its 5G products. Following the arrest of a Huawei employee in Poland on spying charges, Poland was expected to ban the deployment of Huawei’s 5G equipment in the country. However, indications are that Huawei might be able to allay Polish fears about the security risks posed by their 5G equipment if, as it proposes, a cybersecurity center is established in the country. Although Huawei equipment has not been outrightly banned in the Czech Republic, the formal warning issued in December 2018 by the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NCISA) that Huawei equipment poses a national security threat would make it more difficult for Huawei to provide 5G equipment to the Czechs. Ever on the defensive, Huawei categorically denied the allegations, and demanded that the NCISA provide proof of their allegations.
In contrast to the push back it is experiencing in Europe, the US effort to shut Huawei out of 5G networks around the world is a resounding success in Australia and New Zealand, as well as Japan. The precursor to Australia’s ban on Huawei’s participation in the country’s 5G network came in 2012 when the Australian government excluded Huawei from bidding for contracts to build the AU$38 billion National Broadband Network on cybersecurity grounds.
It is thus not surprising that Australia banned Huawei from its 5G rollout in August 2018, citing security concerns. This decision was based on a literal interpretation of the 2017 National Intelligence Law of China in the context of Australia’s Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017, and Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 which, in combination, empowers the government of Australia to ban any company operating critical infrastructure from buying equipment or services from suppliers deemed to be a threat to national security.
In November 2018, New Zealand became the third Five Eyes country to ban Huawei from its 5G networks when it rejected, on national security grounds, an application by Spark New Zealand to use Huawei’s 5G equipment. A month later, the Japanese central government issued a ban in December 2018 on the procurement of personal computers, servers and telecommunications equipment by Japan’s government and Self-Defense Forces to prevent systems failures or leakage of information to China. Although the ban did not mention any company by name, it was reported that it was informed by information provided to the Japanese government by the US government regarding the security risks posed by Chinese-made equipment. Accordingly, many concluded that Huawei and ZTE were the prime victims, if not targets, of the ban especially given reports that Japan’s major telecommunications providers would not use Huawei products in their 5G networks.
Can’t crush us
In early 2019, Huawei was in hot soup, and feeling the heat. After all, their CFO and daughter of the company’s founder was languishing in Canada at the request of the US government, and three of the Five Eyes countries (the US, Australia, and New Zealand) and Japan had banned it from their 5G networks. The US government was also on a full-court press against the company, after declaring the company a threat to national security, and slapping it with 23 indictments for fraud and theft of trade secrets. The US government also waged a worldwide war against Huawei, informing its allies and partners that they either had to do its bidding and ban the company from their 5G networks, or lose the privilege of cooperating with the US in sharing intelligence and fighting crime.
In response, the normally reclusive Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder and CEO came out of the woodwork in February 2019 and granted an exclusive interview to the BBC. Ren told the BBC that he was confident that the world would not abandon Huawei because they had advanced technologies, and defiantly added that there is “no way the US can crush [Huawei].”
Huawei acknowledged the existential threat posed to it by US government sanctions, learning from the near-death experience of their compatriot, ZTE, following sanctions by the US between 2017 and 2018. Accordingly, Ren admitted in June 2019 that Huawei sales would drop by $30 billion over the following two years. Mr. Ren also said that Huawei’s smartphone sales had declined 40 percent compared to the month before because of US sanctions, and that the company’s annual sales would be no more than $100 billion for 2020 and 2021.
Nevertheless, Huawei went on to defy the odds toward the end of 2019, with more countries allowing them into their 5G networks, and many companies and countries opposing the ban on Huawei products. Huawei continued developing new products, launched a new software development ecosystem, started weaning itself off US components and — Surprise, surprise! — broke its record in annual sales.
Many countries balked at the US efforts to shut Huawei out of their 5G networks. Although the US reportedly told Germany it would limit the amount of intelligence it shares with German security agencies if Huawei builds Germany’s 5G infrastructure, Germany decided in April 2019 that it would not exclude Huawei from its 5G networks because it had yet to see evidence of the security risk allegedly posed by the company. This position was reiterated in October 2019, although the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled in November 2019 that the German parliament would decide on the matter of involving Huawei in building Germany’s 5G network. Despite this, Telefonica Deutschland, one of Germany’s top mobile carriers, chose Huawei and Nokia to build out its 5G network, in anticipation of government approval of the use of Huawei’s equipment in their network.
To be continued
Katim is a soil scientist, entrepreneur, international development consultant, and writer on global issues