Defending Our Data: Huawei, 5G and the Five Eyes



Bob Seely, Peter Varnish, John Hemmings | Henry Jackson Society

Data is power, and whoever controls communications will have great power over our societies in the future. Ownership of those communications structures, access to information flows and attitudes toward human freedom, will be paramount in shaping our nation in the twenty-first century and beyond. The impact 5G is likely to have on society, on government, on regulation, our way of life, and even, the global order – is still to be determined, but is likely to be highly significant. Because it and the Internet of Things (IoT) will impact so many facets of life, and drive the next stages of innovation, industry, and economy, it has been rightfully recognised as a strategic industry of the future, par excellence. Along with China, the United States, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Canada, the United Kingdom has initiated a number of government-corporate programmes, strategies, and test-bed & trials to help kick-start 5G. The Government’s primary document is the Digital Strategy, which was published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) in March 2017 1 . The strategy contains a £1 billion commitment to help roll-out 5G across a range of applications – such as smart farming with drones, healthcare in the home, manufacturing productivity, and self-driving cars – across the whole of Britain.

For nearly a year, a debate about Chinese telecommunications companies has raged in the West, started by the US decision to ban American firms from selling components and software to the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE in April 2018. While this situation was ultimately resolved, it was followed shortly after by the arrest of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei. The Chinese Government’s swift response to her arrest – including the arrest of two Canadian former diplomats – seemed to indicate that the company, long-seen as a ‘national champion’, has the full political support of Beijing. Given the reputation China has as a source of cyber-espionage, the prospect of including Huawei in the building of the UK’s 5G network raises a number of questions about the company’s independence from Beijing, and potential risks inherent in including its hardware and software in the network.

In attempting to determine the risk posed by Huawei or ZTE (or any other Chinese corporation, for that matter) taking a large role in the UK’s digital infrastructure, it is clear that we are at an unusual crossing-point in the history of great power relations and in the history of technology. The People’s Republic of China has developed not only into an economic and military power but also into a cyber-power and now wishes to become a “high-tech” power. This introduces new dynamics into and exerts new pressures on the international system.



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