In a significant about-face, the UK government announced on Tuesday that it will push Chinese tech giant Huawei out of the UK’s 5G network by 2027.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told parliament the government’s final decision after Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened a meeting of Britain’s National Security Council.
Dowden added that no new Huawei 5G kits can be purchased after Dec. 31 2020, but older 2G, 3G, and 4G kits can remain until they are obsolete.
It remains to be seen if the move will satisfy Conservative backbench rebel MPs who have pressed the government to implement a complete ban such as in the US and Australia.
In January, the government had originally decided to limit Huawei’s market share to 35% and allow them to be involved in non-critical sectors of the 5G network.
British intelligence services were originally certain they could contain any potential threats, but after the US put sanctions on American technology used by Huawei, UK intelligence services had to reassess.
They now say that they cannot be certain that Huawei’s technology – without the US components – is safe.
British telecoms companies have warned of 5G blackouts if Huawei is pushed out too fast, and the move could also increase the cost and time needed to roll out 5G to the UK.
Adding to the complexity of the decision are British-American ties and thorny UK-China relations.
The UK and US are close allies, and are currently negotiating a post-Brexit free trade deal. It is the US that has put the most pressure on Britain to cut China’s Huawei out of its 5G network, even threatening continued intelligence-sharing between Washington and London.
UK-China relations have been strained recently, over China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its controversial new security law on Hong Kong, which the UK vocally opposed, going so far as offering a route to British citizenship to around 3 million Hong Kongers. China, however, is an important trade partner for the UK, which post-Brexit will be seeking to strike trade deals around the world.
Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, said he would step down from his current position as chairman of Huawei UK.
China has said it would closely watch UK’s move on Huawei, calling it a bellwether.
“It will show whether it’s safe for China to continue its investment in the country, and could also serve as a touchstone of market trends in the UK after Brexit,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement before the UK’s announcement, according to Global Times.
“The [Huawei] decision could also testify as to whether the UK can provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies in the country,” said Beijing.
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