UK Looks To Scale Back Huawei Deal In Wake Of Pandemic

The UK government has confirmed it is reviewing a deal announced in January that allowed Huawei to play a limited role in building the UK’s 5G infrastructure.

The review follows new US sanctions intended to block Huawei’s access to semiconductors produced outside the United States.

“The security and resilience of our networks is of paramount importance,” the National Cyber Security Centre said in a statement.

“Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks.”

‘Reliable and secure’

Huawei vice president Victor Zhang said the company remains committed to providing “reliable and secure” 5G networks in the UK.

“Our priority remains to continue the rollout of a reliable and secure 5G networks across Britain,” Zhang said.

“We are happy to discuss with NCSC any concerns they may have and hope to continue the close working relationship we have enjoyed for the last 10 years.”

The news follows a report by the Daily Telegraph on Friday that prime minister Boris Johnson is looking for a way to dramatically scale back the January deal.

Johnson wants to entirely phase out the involvement of the Shenzhen, China-based telecommunications equipment maker by by 2023, the report said.

The previous deal had allowed Huawei to supply technology for non-core parts of the network, with its participation capped at 35 percent.

But amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Johnson has called for the UK to become less reliant on China for goods.

Strategic imports

Johnson has also reportedly instructed civil servants to make plans to end the UK’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports.

“(Johnson) still wants a relationship with China but the Huawei deal is going to be significantly scaled back,” the Telegraph quoted a source as saying.  “Officials have been instructed to come up with a plan to reduce Huawei’s involvement as quickly as possible.”

The paper quoted another source as saying that the original deal “was struck before the pandemic hit, but coronavirus has changed everything”.

The permanent secretary of the Department for International Trade, reporting to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, is reportedly leading the new plans.

The shift comes as Johnson is scheduled to travel to the US for the G7 summit in June, where he expects to hold trade talks with US president Donald Trump amidst increasingly contentious Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Pandemic backlash

The Chinese government has faced a backlash over the global pandemic, which began in China, and has denied US allegations that it has not been transparent about the virus’ initial outbreak.

China itself is pushing ahead with plans to become less reliant on countries such as the United States, according to local media reports.

UK mobile network operators have warned that barring Huawei from the country’s 5G networks would amount to a major expense, as it would require the removal of existing 4G Huawei network equipment.

The US had previously pressured the UK and other allies to ban Huawei and other Chinese equipment makers from 5G networks on national security grounds.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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