Theresa May reportedly backs Huawei role in UK telecoms network

Security experts have warned of espionage risks if Huawei helps build 5G network

FILE PHOTO: Small toy figures are seen in front of a displayed Huawei and 5G network logo in this illustration picture, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
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UK Prime Minister Theresa May has risked angering close allies by agreeing to give Huawei a role in building the country's 5G network, despite concerns about potential security threats.

Mrs May has faced down ministerial opposition within the National Security Council to allow the Chinese telecoms giant to be involved in building non-sensitive parts of the network, such as antennae, The Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday.

Security officials have raised concerns over Huawei’s role because Chinese law obligates the companies to cooperate with the state’s security apparatus, raising fears of espionage and state-backed sabotage.

The US has wanted to exclude Huawei completely and has pushed allies to do the same. Australia followed the US lead in August last year but other nations have continued to mull whether to allow Huawei to have a role in the major expansion of telecoms network. Huawei has denied having links to the Chinese government.

“I’m not sure what the Prime Minister was thinking but it seems to be against the advice of some of her security professionals,” Thomas Bossert, a former homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump, told the BBC.

The timing of the reports comes as senior officials from an intelligence alliance comprising of the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Canada meet at a cyber security conference in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss current and impending threats.

Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said to the BBC that he had been told by an intelligence head from one of the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ countries that no part of the complex telecoms system could be considered completely secure from intrusion.

He highlighted the roll-out of Chinese security controls in Xinjiang, where the state has cracked down on the Muslim Uighur population using technology “to a degree and depth and totality that no nation has tried before”.

“The reality is talking about a system that will need constant upgrading ... every time you do that you have got to open up the system to your technology department to make sure it works.”

The chief executive of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, declined to comment on any decision made by government, but said the issue was much bigger than Huawei.

“What we have said in the past is that we face fundamental challenges ... the most strategically damaging attack that the UK telecoms industry has suffered in my time in this position, was a Russian attack outed by us and the Americans in April 2018 that had nothing to do with China and nothing to do with Huawei kit. This issue is bigger than one company,” he told the BBC.

“It’s objectively the case that in the past decade there have been different approaches across the Five Eyes and across the allied wider western alliance towards Huawei and towards other issues as well.”

A government-led committee set up to vet products made by Huawei reported last month that it had found “significant technical issues” with the company's processes that created risks for the UK telecommunications sector. It also said that Huawei had not made much progress in addressing security flaws previously identified.

The UK government said it had conducted review of the security threats and would report on its conclusions in due course.