Last week, Ottawa announced that it had put off a decision on whether to ban Huawei from building the nation’s 5G network, according to a report by the Washington Times.
The announcement sparked fears in Ottawa ranging from reserved concerns that Huawei may achieve a monopoly in Canada’s 5G ecosystem, to dramatic speculation that the Chinese tech giant could cut off Canada’s internet following a Beijing decree.
Earlier this year, Canada arrested Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. She is now under house arrest and is battling extradition requests from the US in the courts. Shortly after her arrest, China detained two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spravor, who were charged with espionage.
“The Canadian government said it was acting at the request of the Trump administration, […] but Beijing’s reaction was furious,” the Washington Times report says.
The Times’ Barry Brown speculates that the 5G contract could have been awarded to Huawei as a sort of “olive branch” to Beijing.
Under the deal, Huawei will build antenna infrastructure to supply high-speed connectivity to some 200,000 people in over 70 remote and rural communities in Canada’s vast but sparsely populated regions, including communities in the Arctic, northeastern Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, the report says.
“This is a time of real tension between Canada and China, and it can only be solved by governments,” Alykhan Velshi, the vice president of Huawei’s Canada division, said, adding that, “like all Canadians are concerned, about […] well-being” of the detained Canadians.
Velshi vehemently rejected the allegations that Huawei is working on behalf of Chinese government, adding that every company employee follows Canadian law. He also ridiculed the perception of Huawei in Canada as “Dr. Evil’s lair,” where employees toil away “at the latest world-ending scheme.”
Despite mounting pressure from Washington, Canada – unlike Australia and New Zealand – refused to ban Huawei. The US put the company on a blacklist, forbidding Huawei from selling technology on American soil, as well as refusing to allow the company to buy critical components for its technology. Huawei nonetheless reported a 23 percent increase in sales in the first half of this year.
The Huawei spat was reportedly brought up during talks between Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. While the two diplomats did not achieve an immediate resolution, they have agreed to continue the discussion.