ArgumentBritain Knows It’s Selling Out Its National Security to Huawei

Published 4 February 2020

Allowing Chinese telecom company Huawei access to a country’s 5G infrastructure makes that country vulnerable to espionage, sabotage, and blackmail. Yet, last Tuesday, in defiance of sustained U.S. pressure, Britain said it would allow Huawei to be involved in rolling out the U.K. 5G mobile network. “Upon closer inspection, the British government’s reasoning, and the basic assumptions underlying it, are eerily lightweight and sometimes openly self-contradictory.” Thorsten Benner writes. “London’s justification for cooperating with the Chinese telecommunications company is riddled with obvious contradictions.”

Last Tuesday, in defiance of sustained U.S. pressure, the British government announced its decision to allow the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to be involved in the rollout of the U.K. next-generation 5G mobile network. The network will run everything from self-driving cars and remote health services to industrial production. Thorsten Benner writes in Foreign Policy that there are growing concerns that “dependence on Chinese technology for 5G critical infrastructure will make countries vulnerable to espionage, sabotage, and blackmail. This is why Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the United States took the lead in banning Huawei from 5G rollout.”

Benner notes that the United Kingdom has now broken ranks with its closest allies, including fellow members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing club. The British government itself classified Chinese company as a “high-risk vendor” and barred it from the core network that manages access and authentication, but nevertheless permitted it to compete for up to 35 percent market share in the country’s access network—that is, its antennae and similar equipment.

Benner writes that the U.K.’s decision comes at a critical moment for Europe, with many countries embroiled in in a heated political debate over how to handle Huawei. But the U.K. shouldn’t be a model for countries in Europe—or anywhere else, for that matter, he writes. “Upon closer inspection, the British government’s reasoning, and the basic assumptions underlying it, are eerily lightweight and sometimes openly self-contradictory.”

The real reason for Britain’s non-exclusion of Huawei was kept under wraps by the government: Fear of Chinese retaliation. After Brexit, London sees itself as dependent on Beijing’s goodwill. And the Chinese were not subtle in their threats: In an interview with the Global Times on 20 January, “the Chinese ambassador to Britain made it clear that an exclusion of Huawei would severely damage economic and political relations. And for Johnson, the threats from Beijing—a government with expansive control over its national economy—were more credible than those of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.”

Of course, fear isn’t much of an appealing public justification, especially for someone such as Johnson, who wants to project the image of a fearless leader. That’s why the government has come up with an extensive technical justification for the decision—an explanation that’s full of contradictions.


Britain’s approach to 5G security relies on a distinction between core and access networks that the government itself acknowledges is essentially meaningless in a 5G world where computing power (and vulnerabilities through software updates) moves ever more toward the edges of the network.


Johnson’s decision to make high-risk provider Huawei part of its 5G networks is that of a nation that has given up on technological sovereignty. Driven by pro-Beijing business interests and post-Brexit fears, the U.K. is making its most critical infrastructure dependent on technology controlled by China’s Communist Party, thus opening itself up to further blackmail and sabotage.