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U.K. Bans Huawei from 5G Networks after U.S. Pressure Campaign

People are seen inside a Huawei store at a shopping mall in Beijing, China, July 14, 2020. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Britain will ban Huawei equipment from the country’s high-speed 5G network, the government said Tuesday, delivering a victory to the Trump administration, which has been pushing allies to eschew the Chinese technology giant. 

The British government announced it would bar the purchase of new Huawei equipment for 5G networks beginning in December and ordered existing equipment to be removed from the networks by 2027, saying that Huawei created too high a risk for such a critical, multibillion-dollar project, but that imposing restrictions any faster would increase the risk to the security and resilience of the network. 

“As facts have changed, so has our approach,” Oliver Dowden, the government minister in charge of telecommunications, told the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon. “This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the U.K.’s telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy, both now and indeed in the long run.”

Critics of Huawei in the U.S. and abroad have called on countries to shun the firm, citing its close ties to the Chinese government as a security concern. They allege Beijing could use the company’s equipment for espionage or to disrupt telecommunications, though the company insists that is not the case. 

While the U.S. had imposed restrictions disrupting the firm’s access to important components in May, Britain had previously been one of the company’s most welcoming markets and had said in January that Huawei equipment would be allowed in its new 5G network on a limited basis. 

The country’s about-face comes after months of political pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take a firmer stance with Beijing. Western countries have increasingly begun confronting China since it adopted a new law increasing its power over the semi autonomous city of Hong Kong last month. 

“This government is cleareyed about China,” Dowden said. “What we want is a modern and mature relationship with China based on mutual respect.”

The costly decision is expected to delay Britain’s 5G rollout by around two years. However, the government said there is no need to remove Huawei equipment in 2G, 3G and 4G networks or to discontinue use of Huawei products.

Huawei called the ban a disappointment and “bad news for anyone in the U.K. with a mobile phone.”

“It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide,” Ed Brewster, a spokesman for Huawei U.K., told the New York Times. “Regrettably our future in the U.K. has become politicized; this is about U.S. trade policy and not security. Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected U.K.”

He said Huawei would continue to support its customers and “work with the U.K. government to explain how we can continue to contribute to a better-connected Britain.”

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