A US official has warned that the UK and any other western countries that adopt Huawei technology for 5G mobile phone networks risk affecting intelligence cooperation with the United States
The escalation of the rhetoric comes days after a leak indicated the UK was prepared to give Huawei the go-ahead to supply “non-core” infrastructure – a security measure that the US said on Monday would not work in practice.
Robert Strayer, a deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of State, said on Monday that Huawei “was not a trusted vendor” and any use of its technology in 5G networks was a risk.
He said the US would “have to reassess our ability to be interconnected and share information” if Huawei was used by the UK or other European countries, implying intelligence sharing could be at risk.
Last week a tense UK national security council meeting narrowly approved in principle to Huawei being allowed to supply “non-core” 5G technology, despite objections from five of the cabinet ministers present and months of US lobbying.
The decision was leaked to the Daily Telegraph, prompting an inquiry in which ministers, advisers and officials are likely to be interviewed, and which will probably lead to calls for the leaker to be sacked, regardless of their seniority.
One of the ministers who objected, Jeremy Hunt, reiterated his concerns about Huawei overnight on an official visit to Africa.
The foreign secretary, widely considered a Conservative leadership candidate, said there should be “a degree of caution” about the role of large Chinese companies in the UK “because of the degree of control the Chinese state is able to exercise over them”.
Repeating rhetoric used by US intelligence agencies last week, Strayer said countries that adopted Huawei technology risked handing China “a loaded gun”, amid fears the technology could be used for mass surveillance.
He said such decisions were something that “western democracies who are concerned about human rights need to think carefully about”.
Although Strayer was simply restating the position of the Trump administration about Chinese telecoms equipment, the briefing was clearly a calculated intervention after the leak in the UK.
Gallery: The Trump administration is warning allies to stay away from a powerful Chinese company — but not everyone’s listening (Business Insider)