Huawei alert system raised from amber to red in UK
What’s riskier than “high-risk”? Huawei already carried that unwelcome designation in the UK, but authorities believed they could mitigate any threat by restricting the Chinese vendor’s role. With the latest US sanctions, even these limits may be insufficient. If Huawei were a virus, the UK’s color-coded alert system would just have switched from amber to red.
Plans for a total Huawei ban are now in the works, according to mainstream press reports at the weekend. The threat level has supposedly been elevated by US efforts to throttle Huawei’s supply of components made with US equipment or design expertise, including essential semiconductors provided by Taiwan’s TSMC. Because Huawei may now have to revert to equipment from less trustworthy sources, its riskiness is deemed to have grown.
Erstwhile bigwigs in the intelligence community have emphasized those risks. In an article written for the Financial Times (subscription required), John Sawers, the former head of MI6, said the latest sanctions “mean that reliable non-Chinese suppliers to Huawei can no longer work with the company. UK intelligence services can therefore no longer provide the needed assurances that Chinese-made equipment is still safe to use in the UK’s telecoms network.”
The rationale is spurious. The latest sanctions would not prevent Huawei from using components made with equipment or design expertise that came from any country bar the US. Although few safe non-US options appear to exist, Huawei designs much of its own technology in any case. Long before sanctions began targeting its supply chain, it was effectively barred from dealing with large US operators because of the possibility its products included Chinese spyware.
From the perspective of UK operators that already use Huawei equipment, the real concern is that US sanctions threaten Huawei’s survival – or, at least, its ability to provide equipment once its current inventory is exhausted. Huawei seems to acknowledge this in an emailed response to the latest UK developments: “We believe it is too early to determine the impact of the proposed [US] restrictions, which are not about security, but about market position,” it said.
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