US threat to end security cooperation over Chinese telco

By on 26/02/2019 | Updated on 04/02/2022
‘Hope that’s not a Huawei’: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo wants to keep the Chinese firm out of western infrastructure

The US government ramped-up pressure on European countries last week over security cooperation, urging them to stop using Huawei technology in their IT infrastructure or forego US intelligence.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo told Fox Business News on Thursday that the US would no longer share information with countries using the technology, citing the risk of potential cyber attacks orchestrated by the Chinese government.

“If a country adopts this and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them,” he said. “In some cases there’s risk – we won’t even be able to co-locate American resources, an American embassy and American military outpost.”

Ghosts in the machines

Pompeo was speaking on his return from a trip to Poland where, he told Fox Business, he warned European countries of the dangers of using the equipment.

“We can’t forget these systems were designed… alongside the Chinese [People’s Liberation Army], their military in China,” he said. “The risk to privacy from this technology is very, very real.”

However, some European countries are sceptical about US claims that Huawei technology could be used by Chinese spies to snoop on western private and public sector organisations.

UK intelligence services said last week that any security threat from Huawei equipment was manageable, while in December a German investigation concluded there was no evidence of the company engaging in espionage.

Qualms in Europe

Europe is preparing to roll out super-fast 5G mobile networks, with Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment supplier, playing a central part.

On Monday the chief executive of Vodafone, Nick Read, urged the US to be more explicit about the information they hold on the Chinese technology giant. 

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Read told reporters that stripping Huawei equipment from the existing 4G network and barring it from use in the 5G rollout would “structurally disadvantage” Europe.

According to Reuters Read, he said the process would be “very, very expensive” and would “delay 5G in Europe by probably two years.”

“People are saying things at the moment that are not grounded,” he said. “I’m not saying that is the case for the US, because I have not met them directly myself so I have not seen what evidence they have, but they clearly need to present that evidence to the right bodies throughout Europe.”

Full-ahead in the US

While European countries remain undecided about the risks, the US clampdown on the Chinese technology firm shows no sign of abating. US senators said on Monday they want to see Huawei technology removed from the nation’s electricity grid.

In a letter written to the Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security, the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee said Huawei products for solar grids present a threat to the nation’s critical energy infrastructure.  “Congress recently acted to block Huawei from our telecommunications equipment market due to concerns with the company’s links to China’s intelligence services. We urge similar action to protect critical US electrical systems and infrastructure,” they said.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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