Britain will limit the role Huawei Technologies can have in the construction of the country's 5G network, but will still allow the China-backed group significant access in a move that could anger U.S. authorities as well as President Donald Trump.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government said Tuesday that Huawei will be excluded from 5G network building around sensitive sights such as nuclear facilities and military bases, and its overall contribution will be capped at 35%. However, the decision to allow the group into a key European market is likely to trigger reaction from Washington, which has been pressing Johnson, as well as other leaders in the so-called 'Five Eyes' security compact of English-speaking nations around the world, to exclude Huawei based on its alleged ties to China's military.
"Huawei is reassured by the UK government's confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G rollout on track," UK head Victor Zhang said in a statement. "It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market."
Trump's decision last year to ban Huawei from dealing with U.S. companies without prior government approval was described as "disgraceful and unjust" by China's Foreign Ministry.
Huawei, the world's biggest telecoms equipment maker and a key plank in China's ambitions towards dominating 5G networking around the globe, was placed on the 'Entity List' by the U.S. Commerce, a move that effectively prevents it from acquiring components and technology from American companies without prior government approval.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also been pressing European leaders to keep Huawei shut out of regional plans to develop 5G networks, even going so far as to invoke the legacy of former British leader Margaret Thatcher in a speech in London last May.
"Ask yourself: would the Iron Lady be silent when China violates the sovereignty of nations through corruption or coercion? Would she allow China to control the internet of the future?" Pompeo said. "Insufficient security will impede the United States' ability to share certain information within trusted networks. This is just what China wants - to divide Western alliances through bits and bytes, not bullets and bombs."
President Trump's moves to limit Huawei's influence, however, have found some support among members of the so-called "Five Eyes" alliance of English-speaking economies that share intelligence, including Australia and Canada.
"I believe there are many security concerns as it relates to Huawei and the development of Canada's 5G," former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer said. "We know the government of China has acknowledged its role in certain cyber-attacks."
Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose government banned Huawei from participating in 5G rollouts in July of 2018, told the U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper that the risks of allowing the China-backed group in "cannot be effectively mitigated."
"You can't design away around it," he said. "The view that the Australian government took under my leadership last year was that the high-risk vendors, which includes Huawei of course, should not be permitted to be involved in the 5G networks."