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British authorities won’t change their minds on phasing out Huawei from the country’s 5G networks once U.S. President Donald Trump has left the White House, said the former U.K. cybersecurity official who spearheaded London’s approach.
“The U.K. position is unlikely to change,” said Ciaran Martin, former head of the National Cyber Security Centre that oversees telecom operators’ security rules and also inspects Huawei equipment.
Martin said he didn’t believe an incoming Biden administration would reverse Trump’s sanctions on Huawei and said that, even if sanctions were rolled back, “the sanctions could be reinstated. And what’s the point of chopping and changing all the time now that we know that Huawei’s involvement can be crippled by U.S. sanctions.”
The British government in July turned the screws on the Chinese vendor with a decision to ban the purchase of new Huawei equipment from January next year and to force operators to rip out existing Huawei kit from 5G networks by 2027. This week it proposed a law that would allow the government to slap massive fines on operators that fail to meet the requirements.
The U.K.’s July decision marked a pivotal moment in the Trump administration’s efforts to convince lawmakers across the world to ban the Chinese telecom company, which has a significant market share for equipment powering European telecom networks.
Martin, who teaches at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School since leaving office in the summer, was critical of the Trump administration’s approach to crippling Chinese technology, calling the strategy “very haphazard.”
“To security engineers, the term ‘Clean Network’ just doesn’t make sense,” he said, referring to the U.S. State Department’s strategy to counter China’s rise on technologies including cloud computing, social media and internet infrastructure.
But, the former cyber chief said, the U.S. campaign did reveal a key vulnerability in the U.K. and other European countries by demonstrating how unilateral sanctions on a Chinese firm can become an unmanageable risk.
The key remaining hole in the U.K.’s security of telecom networks, Martin said, was a lack of viable equipment vendors to compete with Ericsson and Nokia — Huawei’s European competitors that dominate the markets where Chinese vendors are banned.
“You can’t just declare into existence in market economies alternatives to the likes of Huawei,” he said, adding “it’ll take a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of coordination.”
“We’re talking about competing with a state-controlled economy of 1.5 billion people with a 25-year strategy. So you are talking about a fairly unprecedented alignment of like-minded countries … cooperating in ways that they haven’t ever done. It’s a big, big task,” Martin said.
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