Robert Strayer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cyber and International Communications Policy at the US State Department, told MPs on Wednesday that Huawei could be complicit in surveillance due to Chinese “intelligence laws that compel the activity to be directed by the leadership”.
"I would consider the cell phone carriers… all over the City of London - if they were all run by Huawei - to be a point of concern. In the sense that all of our phone calls could be surveilled,” he said at a Parliament event organised by foreign policy think-tank, the Henry Jackson Society.
Top UK security officials have reportedly decided to allow Huawei to supply ‘non-core’ technology, such as antenna masts, for Britain's 5G network.
Strayer, however, called this move “inadequate” and called on UK decision-makers to adopt a “risk-based approach” and avoid “untrusted vendors”, referring to the Chinese tech titan.
Ambassador @robstrayer emphasised that countries should take a risk-based approach. He said, “A risk-based approach needs to include the threat and the vulnerability...It is a vulnerability to have untrusted vendors in any part of a 5G network.”— Henry Jackson Society (@HJS_Org) 19 июня 2019 г.
Instead, he recommended relying on what he called more reliable vendors, such as European tech companies Nokia and Erikson, and South Korea's Samsung.
Ambassador @robstrayer: “There is a continuing effort by the [Chinese] government to restrict the use of technology and to insert itself in private sector actions when it comes to limitations on freedom of speech.”— Henry Jackson Society (@HJS_Org) 19 июня 2019 г.
A Huawei spokesperson refuted the allegations in a statement to The Daily Telegraph.
"We reject the latest round of unsupported allegations by the US in London today. Huawei is an independent privately owned company which has never been involved in a serious cyber security incident in 30 years of operations,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.
"In the absence of evidence, Assistant Secretary Strayer relies on crude stereotypes to argue our 18-year presence in the UK should be brought to an end.”
The US intelligence community suspects that Huawei is being financed by the Chinese military and could be spying on behalf of the government, but the company insists that it is independent from Beijing.
Washington last year banned Huawei products, and another major Chinese tech firm, ZTE, from use in the government, much to Beijing's outrage. “Huawei is effectively an arm of the Chinese government, and it’s more than capable of stealing information from US officials by hacking its devices,” the lawmakers said when introducing the bill.
The Trump administration has increased pressure on the Chinese firm and effectively banned it from buying technology from American companies, with China preparing to respond in kind.
Moreover, the US has been pushing its allies to ban Huawei from 5G roll-out. While some counties – such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand – have followed suit, European partners have been more reluctant to shut the door on Huawei.
Last week, the UK-based Vodafone launched its first commercial 5G network across Spain using Huawei equipment.
Germany has allowed Huawei to take part in its 5G auction, despite US threats to limit intelligence-sharing, while France is going to roll out its first commercial network next year using Huawei gear as well.