Now, Huawei is constructing a global network of undersea Internet cables and next-generation mobile networks that could give China effective control of the digital commanding heights.
Our European allies, including Britain, are deciding whether to allow Huawei to build their 5G wireless networks, which will soon facilitate everything from industrial manufacturing to NATO military communications. For Europe’s sake and for the transatlantic alliance, our allies must keep Huawei as far from their 5G networks as possible. Adopting Chinese 5G technology will force the United States to reevaluate long-standing intelligence and military partnerships to protect our security interests.
Some countries, such as Germany, have already indicated they’ll allow Chinese technology into their 5G networks. Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly wants assurances from Beijing that it won’t spy on Germany in exchange for using Huawei technology. This “no-spying agreement” will be as effective at abolishing spying as the Kellogg-Briand Pact was at abolishing war.
Other European leaders claim that the risks posed by Huawei can be “managed” through vigilance and oversight. But the most effective way to mitigate risk is to avoid it in the first place. If you want to keep your enemies at bay, don’t let in the Trojan horse.
The African Union learned the hard way to be wary of strangers bearing gifts. Its $200 million headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was a “gift” financed, constructed and outfitted by China with Huawei servers. Last year, African Union engineers alleged those servers had funneled massive amounts of sensitive data to China every night for years — a stunning cybertheft reportedly supplemented by old-fashioned listening devices found in the walls of the Chinese-built facility. The African Union was forced to replace its servers and implement new security measures at great expense. It declined an offer from Huawei engineers to configure the new system; once burned, twice shy.
The African Union’s experience with Huawei should put to rest uninformed claims that Chinese telecoms don’t pose a security threat. But if that isn’t enough to convince our European friends, they should note how the countries closest to China’s gravitational pull are acting to preserve the integrity of their telecommunications networks. Australia, Japan and New Zealand have all banned Huawei technology, in some cases taking even more aggressive actions than the United States.
Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has warned the British government against allowing Huawei into its 5G network: “It’s important to remember that the threat is a combination of capability and intent. Capability can take years or decades to develop . . . but intent can change in a heartbeat.”
Turnbull is right. Even if Huawei’s risks seem “manageable” today, are our allies so confident they’ll remain so in the future? Huawei doesn’t operate independently of its government, but even if it did, it would still be subject to Chinese laws that require companies to fully cooperate with its intelligence services. If Huawei is directed by Chinese military or intelligence officials to compromise a foreign country’s 5G network, it will comply. This would allow the Chinese government to export all the worst excesses of its cutting-edge police state to free soil.
Huawei’s supposed allure, namely its artificially low prices and customer service, only reinforces the security threat it poses to our allies. Huawei’s products are cheaper thanks to IP theft and subsidies from the Chinese government. Huawei’s customer service, meanwhile, can regularly dispatch Chinese engineers to poke around the telecommunications infrastructure of major foreign corporations and governments, multiplying the opportunities for new security threats. A 5G network built and managed by Huawei is a system that gives dangerous amounts of access to potential agents of the Chinese Communist Party.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that widespread adoption of Huawei technology could not only make our allies more vulnerable to cyberattacks but also endanger NATO troops fighting on future, 5G-equipped battlefields. Just as importantly, adoption of Huawei technology will jeopardize intelligence sharing within the NATO alliance and the Five Eyes partnership of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. This avoidable outcome would be a disaster for the free world and a coup for China.
The success of the transatlantic alliance is based on trust and at times frank conversations about what actions are necessary to keep every member safe. We’re in the midst of a frank discussion about Chinese telecommunications technology, which poses an unmanageable security risk to the alliance. Our allies must take steps to keep Huawei out of their 5G networks. If not, we could soon live in an unpredictable environment where information flows at the discretion of an authoritarian power, which at all times has its ear to the door and its finger on the kill switch.