How Do Allies Tackle 5G When They Don’t See Eye to Eye?

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A number of U.S. companies including Google, Intel, Qualcomm and others are limiting business with Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei after the White House issued an Executive Order last week aimed at tightening security on the supply chain for information and communications technology.  While the EO didn’t specifically call out Huawei, the message was clear enough:  the U.S. Government can block or set conditions on transactions that are linked to a ‘foreign adversary’ that it deems a risk to national security, critical infrastructure, or the ‘digital economy’.

It’s a point that was also made personally in London last week by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who warned that the U.S. wouldn’t react well to UK plans to work with Huawei as it builds its 5G network, even hinting that the U.S. may reconsider some areas of cooperation between the allies.

The Five Eyes partners have not seen eye to eye on the Huawei issue for years now.  The U.S. is taking more of a ‘ban’ position, while the UK prefers what it calls a more ‘managed risk’ approach, assigning government oversight of Huawei teams it works alongside.

The former Director of the UK’s GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, told The Cipher Brief last year that “the obvious answer is that we’ve got to find a way to manage the risk and that means national security working with the technology companies to see what we can do to assure ourselves of what is the appropriate level of exposure for buying, or acquiring, or using, or connecting, to anything.  I don’t think that it’s viable simply to ban stuff because it’s made in a particular country,” said Hannigan.

But with the latest warning delivered by Pompeo, how is the British government re-thinking the way it manages risk, and balancing that against its relationship with the U.S.?

The Cipher Brief tapped two of our experts – former Deputy Director of GCHQ Conrad Prince and former senior member of the British Foreign Office Nick Fishwick, for their perspective on how the British think about China and Huawei.

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