Updated at 9:30 a.m. ET
The U.K. government says it will allow telecom giant Huawei a “limited role” in building its new 5G data network, despite U.S. pressure to cut the Chinese company out of development plans. The U.S. considers Huawei a security risk and has long cited its ties to China’s Communist Party and possible links to the military.
The U.K. says it will prevent Huawei’s equipment from being used in “sensitive ‘core’ parts of 5G” and other high-speed networks. It will also cap the involvement of Huawei and other “high risk” vendors at 35 percent of nonsensitive parts of Britain’s network.
The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre, which conducted a security and technical analysis for the government’s 5G supply chain review, says it considers Huawei a high-risk vendor – but rather than banning the company from its important new network, the center is asking British companies “to use Huawei in a limited way so we can collectively manage the risk.”
The NCSC also warns that other countries should not include Huawei in their 5G network plans unless they have “a really robust regulatory system.”
“We’ve never ‘trusted’ Huawei,” the agency says, noting that it formed a special Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre 10 years ago.
The U.S. has said the company could build “backdoor” access that would allow China to spy on anyone from regular citizens to sensitive government agencies. Huawei has denied those allegations. “No law requires any company in China to install mandatory back doors,” founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said last year.
The United States is “disappointed” by the U.K.’s decision, a senior Trump administration official told NPR on Tuesday.
“There is no safe option for untrusted vendors to control any part of a 5G network,” the official said. “We look forward to working with the U.K. on a way forward that results in the exclusion of untrusted vendor components from 5G networks.”
The official added, “We continue to urge all countries to carefully assess the long-term national security and economic impacts of allowing untrusted vendors access to important 5G network infrastructure.”
Huawei welcomed what it calls the U.K.’s “evidence-based” decision.
“Huawei is reassured by the U.K. government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G rollout on track,” Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang said in a video statement about the decision.
“The U.K. faced a dilemma, weighing economic costs with concerns about national security and the country’s relationships with its closest ally, the U.S., and the world’s second-largest economy, China,” NPR’s Frank Langfitt reports from London.
Last summer, the U.S. warned some of its closest allies that if Huawei is part of their 5G telecom infrastructure, U.S. agencies might be reluctant to share intelligence.
In explaining the U.K.’s rationale, the NCSC said it weighed all the options – but blamed a “broken” market for limiting its choices for large-scale 5G suppliers to just three companies: Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei. And without naming any specific company, the agency also said Huawei isn’t the only “high risk” vendor analyzed for the 5G review.
In that environment, the best strategy for the U.K. is to not become “nationally dependent” on any one 5G supplier, according to the NCSC.
“We can now move forward and seize the huge opportunities of 21st century technology,” said the U.K.’s digital secretary, Baroness Nicky Morgan.
In the U.S., the government’s campaign against Huawei includes a ban that prevents agencies from using federal money to buy services or equipment from the telecom company.
But the Trump administration also is allowing Huawei to play a role in U.S. infrastructure — the Commerce Department granted an extension in November to allow American companies to work with Huawei on rural networks.
The U.S. has been openly skeptical of Huawei since at least 2012, when the House Intelligence Committee issued a report criticizing the company over its ties to China’s government and a lack of transparency.
NPR’s Franco Ordoñez contributed to this report.