Representatives of China’s government criticise move, while Huawei claims decision is about trade, rather than security concerns
The UK government made a “disappointing and wrong decision” in banning Huawei from its 5G network, China has said, as US president Donald Trump welcomed the move.
Chinese ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming criticised ministers’ U-turn on the firm’s involvement in Britain’s high-speed network following pressure from the US and Conservative MPs.
Trump, meanwhile, said the Chinese company represented “an unsafe security risk” as he welcomed the decision.
Digital secretary Oliver Dowden on Tuesday confirmed that a ban on purchasing Huawei equipment for the UK’s 5G network would kick in from next January. He pledged to remove the firm’s kit entirely by 2027.
The government had announced in January that Huawei would be permitted to contribute to the UK’s 5G infrastructure, albeit in a non-core role in Britain’s 5G network with the use of its equipment capped at 35% of what was considered the network’s peripheral technology.
But major new sanctions unveiled by the US in May banned the tech vendor from using American chip technology and prompted a fresh safety review by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre.
Condemning the move to block the firm in a tweet on Tuesday night, Ambassador Liu said: “Disappointing and wrong decision by the UK on #Huawei.”
And he added: “It has become questionable whether the UK can provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for companies from other countries.”
Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, said: “It’s a litmus test for the direction where the UK market would go after Brexit, and whether the UK businesses in China will be provided with an open, fair, and non-discriminate environment.”
Huawei’s UK communications director Ed Brewster meanwhile told BBC’s Newsnight that the UK had bowed to “pressure from the US”.
And he added: “I think this is clear this is not about security, this is about trade. This is a US campaign focused on attacking our business and attacking the technology and that is because the US is behind on the technology.”
He also said it was “incorrect” to view Huawei as part of the Chinese state, saying it operated as a “private technology company” working for telecoms networks.
But the decision has been welcomed by president Trump, who claimed personal credit for the shift in policy.
“We convinced many countries — many countries — and I did this myself, for the most part — not to use Huawei because we think it’s an unsafe security risk,” he told reporters in Washington.
The US commander-in-chief added: “It’s a big security risk. I talked many countries out of using it. If they want to do business with us, they can’t use it. Just today, I believe that UK announced that they’re not going to be using it. And that was up in the air for a long time, but they’ve decided.”
Explaining the decision in the House of Commons, Dowden said Britain was now on an “irreversible path” to removing Huawei technology by the next general election because US sanctions meant security officials could “no longer be confident” the technology would be safe.
“The government agrees with the National Cybersecurity Centre advice,” the Cabinet minister said. “The best way to secure our networks is for operators to stop using new affected Huawei equipment to build the UK future 5G networks. So, to be clear, from the end of this year, telecom operators must not buy any 5G equipment from Huawei. And once the Telecoms Security Bill is passed, it will be illegal for them to do so.”
“MPs will have concerns… including no ban on 3G and 4G, and a rip-out date for 5G far into the distance”
Bob Seely, Conservative MP
But Dowden said the shift would result in additional costs of up to £2bn and delay the rollout of the 5G network across the UK by as long as two-three years.
Conservative MPs urged ministers to go further, with former party leader and prominent Huawei critic Iain Duncan Smith demanding the removal of Huawei technology within five years.
Fellow Tory MP and critic of the firm Bob Seely said he welcomed the move, but warned it was a “partial decision”.
“I believe that MPs will have concerns about elements of the statement, including no ban on 3G and 4G and a rip-out date for 5G far into the distance,” he said.
Labour’s shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah said the approach had been “incomprehensibly negligent”.