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UK stands fast, won’t ban Huawei 5G gear despite US warnings

United Kingdom Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Sir Gordon Messenger, signs a Memorandum of Understanding July 13, 2017, assigning a USSTRATCOM liaison officer to the UK Ministry of Defence in London. (Photo: PO Phot Owen Cooban, U.K. Ministry of Defence / Released)

As Pentagon leaders warn about Huawei’s 5G networking products, its UK counterparts say they don’t plan a blanket ban on Chinese components as they move to the next-gen standard.

This comes a day after Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, called 5G “a national security issue,” echoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford’s similar statements last week.

Of the Five Eyes intelligence partners, only Australia and New Zealand have banned Huawei 5G gear. The United States has so far only banned it for government use. And Canada and Britain have taken a softer stance, one that appears to be unwavering despite statements that using Huawei 5G would strain, if not dissolve, intelligence partnerships with the United States. Germany, too, has resisted U.S. pressure, even after the U.S. ambassador warned that it could restrict information sharing.

Britain’s Vice Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gordon Messenger, said Tuesday that his government was “very alive to the risks” of 5G. But Messenger added that the UK was against taking a “blanket approach” to the issue.

“We’re of the view that to simply suggest that one can outright ban Chinese componentry from any future network that one delivers is, let’s just say, a very tall order,” he said at an event at the British embassy. “There is absolutely the ability to go into this with eyes open, recognizing the risks, recognizing the threats, and understanding the technology in building a 5G network that we can depend on and assure.”

Messenger said this did not mean the UK would fully embrace Huawei.

“I think we’re really miles away from having the idea that a Huawei 5G network in its entirety, with visibility of what is part of that, is something that’s going to be accepted into the UK. There are other ways of commercially delivering it,” he said.

Messenger said he has no details so far.

“I have spoken to my colleagues who run our national cybersecurity enterprise and these are clever people who understand both risk and technology, and they are of the view that there is an eyes wide open risk aware approach that needs to be adopted,” he said. “What I can’t tell you is the degree to which Chinese componentry figures into that, because I don’t think anyone knows.”


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