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Huawei warns UK risks 5G leadership role if it blocks Chinese firm

Huawei vice president Victor Zhang said cutting off Huawei’s access to 5G networks could also widen the digital divide in the UK.

Huawei has warned the UK it risks its position as a global leader in 5G technology if it blocks the firm’s involvement in network infrastructure because of US sanctions against the company.

The Chinese firm’s vice president Victor Zhang said it was too early to know the consequences of the sanctions, and that the UK should not rush a decision which could greatly impact the digital economy.

On Monday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that he has received a National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) report on the Chinese technology firm and will be discussing it with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, amid reports the Government could make a U-turn on its decision in January to permit Huawei some access to 5G networks.

Mr Dowden said the sanctions were likely to have a “significant impact” Huawei’s ability to be a part of the networks and whether the UK could use it safely, and that the current UK position to permit the firm was not “set in stone”.

The Chinese company has been the subject of ongoing scrutiny over claims it poses a security risk.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr Zhang said the Government risked damaging its pledge to provide superfast internet connections to the whole country if it blocked Huawei.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the UK to be a leader in 5G,” he said.

“But the restrictions imposed by the US potentially threaten that leadership and risk the UK moving into the technology slowly.

“More importantly, these restrictions may deepen the digital divide.”

Telecoms firms such as BT and Vodafone have previously said it will take around five years and hundreds of millions of pounds to complete the work of stripping out Huawei equipment from its networks.

Mr Zhang also cautioned Boris Johnson against making a decision on Huawei based on the US sanctions in the near future because the implications were still not known.

The sanctions, announced in May, were designed to cut Huawei off from international semiconductor supplies.

“It is important to stress that the restrictions by the US administration will take months to fully understand,” Mr Zhang said.

The fact is, it is too early to assess their long-term impact. This means it is also premature to make a considered judgment on our ability to deliver next-generation connectivity across the UK.”

He also repeated Huawei’s accusation that the US sanctions were “unjustified” and “about trade, not security”.

Earlier this week, the company was also accused of attempting to persuade influential individuals to support Huawei’s integration into the UK’s 5G network.

A controversial dossier – reportedly compiled with the help of former MI6 spy Christopher Steele – has claimed that high-profile people were targeted to act as “useful idiots” for Beijing.

The Daily Mail reported that the 86-page document said politicians and academics were among those in the UK whose backing China sought to secure.

Huawei described the allegations as “unfounded”, and said they were part of a “long-running US campaign” against the company.

PA