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UK's Johnson says 5G will not compromise security

January 27, 2020

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said building a new 5G network in Britain can be squared with national security. His remarks come as Britain is set to decide on the role of Chinese company Huawei in the scheme.

Logo Huawei
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/J. Porzycki

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday insisted that Britons could enjoy the benefits of a 5G telecoms network without damaging national security, amid pressure from Washington and within his own party not to let Chinese company Huawei play any role in the scheme.

"There is no reason why we shouldn't have technological progress here in the UK, allow consumers, businesses in the UK to have access to fantastic technology, to fantastic communications but also protect our security interests and protect our key partnerships with other security powers around the world," he said in reply to a reporter's question on Huawei.

His remarks come on the eve of a National Security Council meeting to decide how much Huawei should be involved in developing the network, with the US and others voicing fears that the company could be a vehicle for Chinese intelligence.

Boris Johnson
Johnson: Torn between Washington and BeijingImage: Getty Images/AFP/B. Stansall

Huawei has always denied that it would pass data on to the Chinese government.

Geopolitical double bind

A decision to give Huawei a major role could have implications for intelligence sharing between the UK and the US, which has banned Huawei from playing any role in the rollout of its next-generation 5G mobile networks over such security concerns.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that Britain had "a momentous decision ahead on 5G," a comment interpreted by some in the UK as a veiled threat, also in light of London's desire for a good trade deal with the US after it leaves the EU on January 31.

However, with China also a major trading partner, the UK will be anxious not to offend Beijing, either.

Read more: Huawei and 5G — it's a minefield 

'Restricted' role likely

Britain's Financial Times newspaper reported on Monday that Johnson was expected to announce a "restricted" role for Huawei in building the network.

But he is facing pressure from lawmakers from his own Conservative Party as well to exclude the Chinese company completely. Tom Tugendhat, a former head of the British Parliament's foreign affairs committee, has said allowing Huawei to participate was letting "the fox into the hen house when really we should be guarding the wire."

However, Britain has been using Huawei technology in its systems for the past 15 years, and security agencies believe that they can manage the risk with the 5G network as they have done before.

The 5G technology provides ultrafast download speeds and practically no lag between giving a signal and getting a response, both key to implementing technologies such as self-driving cars and remotely operated robots like those used in telemedicine or factories.

Huawei workers carry on amid crises on multiple fronts

tj/nm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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