China's Dominance of 5G is a Threat

April 19, 2019
Columns

The Times of London

By: Mike Gallagher, Tom Tugendhat

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and in the future of 5G wireless technology the vulnerability of one country’s network could undermine all its allies. Making 5G networks secure will require the US and Britain to lead their Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners — Australia, Canada and New Zealand — and Nato partners in ensuring that malign actors do not disrupt the unfettered, secure flow of information across the globe.

With 5G the integration of infrastructure, including national security, will be greater than ever, and using commercial 5G networks for military purposes means they must be secure.

Chinese telecommunications companies pose a significant threat to the security of global 5G networks. Of particular concern is Huawei, with its history of bribery, corruption and sanctions evasion.

Britain and some European partners are reticent to ban Huawei. By focusing on the advantages of a rapid roll-out of 5G, many fail to address the longer-term strategic risk of putting Chinese equipment inside their networks. Britain might allow Huawei to participate in its 5G programme, having cited concerns about free market competition if the company was excluded. The German chancellor Angela Merkel has said she does not believe in excluding a company “simply because it’s from a certain country”.

But in the case of 5G, allowing Huawei to compete may end up damaging our ability to compete and innovate in the future. China has long used industrial policies and vast state subsidies to dominate markets at home and abroad. Once China establishes dominance in 5G it will be easier to maintain its advantages in future generations of wireless technology.

To Mrs Merkel’s point, there are at least two reasons to challenge Huawei on the basis of country of origin: China’s national intelligence law and its national cyber law both legally require Chinese entities to co-operate with the state.

Australia and New Zealand should be commended for taking steps to ban Huawei from 5G networks. It is time for the US, Britain and other like-minded, intelligence-sharing countries to ensure that key partners throughout eastern Europe and the Indo-Pacific choose security over convenience. Huawei networks must be banned from carrying Nato and Five Eyes information. If we fail to check Huawei now and support a viable alternative of our own, little of our most sensitive information may be secure again.

Tom Tugendhat is a Conservative MP. Mike Gallagher is a Republican US Representative.

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