Telecoms giant's claim that it would defy Chinese state pressure to pass on data is greeted with scepticism
By Harry Yorke & Natasha Bernal
Daily Telegraph – 15 May 2019
Huawei would "shut down" rather than agree to spy for the Chinese government, senior executives have claimed, raising fresh fears it could cause severe disruption to the UK's 5G network if asked to help build it. Sir Michael Fallon, the former Defence Secretary, last night warned that the Chinese telecoms giant "shouldn't be allowed anywhere near" the UK's critical infrastructure, highlighting the potential fallout if it were to fold.
He was joined by the chairmen of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees, who said any government willing to let the firm participate in
"critical infrastructure does not deserve to be in charge of the nation's defences".
The US has warned Britain and other allies not to use Huawei's technology to build new 5G telecommunications networks, amid concerns it could be a vehicle for Chinese spying.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has pointed out that under a 2017 Chinese law, companies and individuals are required to cooperate with intelligence work if asked. But yesterday, Tim Watkins, Huawei's vice president in Western Europe, denied the claims.
"There is no obligation on Huawei's part to cooperate with the government in the way in which the Americans are indicating,"
he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"Our founder, Mr Ren [Zhengfei], has made it very clear that he has never been asked to hand over customer data or information, and made it clear that if he was asked that, he would refuse, and if it was attempted to be forced, he would shut the company down."
Dr Liang Hua, Huawei's global chairman, said he "endorsed" Mr Watkins' comments, adding:
"There are no Chinese laws to collect information for foreign governments, no laws to implant back doors for the government."
He said Huawei was willing to sign a "no-spy" agreement with the UK to ease concerns about its technology. Last night, MPs questioned what would happen to parts of the 5G network supplied by Huawei if it folded. They included Sir Michael, who told the Daily Telegraph:
"It makes it far too dodgy a proposition. We would be better to stick with an established operator, better security, even if it is more expensive. We should listen to US Secretary [Mike] Pompeo, whose warning was very clear: our access to US intelligence would be compromised."
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said:
"If they can be threatened and possibly closed, how can we rely on the company for national infrastructure?"
Julian Lewis, chairman of the Defence Committee, added:
"The idea that a company of this size is completely independent of the totalitarian, one-party communist state is absurd. Any government that proposes to bring a Chinese telecommunications company into the heart of our future critical national infrastructure does not deserve to be in charge of the nation's defences."
The latest controversy comes three weeks after the Telegraph disclosed that the UK's National Security Council had taken a decision in principle to allow Huawei to supply "non-core" equipment, despite concerns raised by five cabinet ministers.
A report due tomorrow will warn that allowing Huawei to help build even limited parts of the network could allow Beijing to "shut down" signals to vehicles and everyday objects.
A Huawei spokesman said:
"Regrettably, this is another deliberate misinterpretation, stoking groundless fears. In thirty years there has never been a serious incident involving our technology. Our focus remains on delivering for our customers."