China's UK ambassador has waded into the long-running dispute over Huawei's participation in the UK's nascent 5G market, arguing on Twitter and in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper that banning the Chinese vendor would damage relations between China and the UK.
Liu Xiaoming tweeted that banning Huawei would affect "the confidence of foreign investors and the cooperation between China and the UK" just hours after the Sunday Telegraph published an article in which he also warned that any restrictions would leave the UK "trailing behind on technology."
Sunday @Telegraph carried my article: Banning Huawei would leave Britain trailing behind on technology, which clarifies three questions: Is Huawei safe? What has Huawei done for China-UK relations? And, what would be the consequence of banning Huawei in Britain? pic.twitter.com/cHUxW8DLE3— Liu Xiaoming (@AmbLiuXiaoMing) January 5, 2020
His intervention comes weeks after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson resurrected the possibility of excluding Huawei from the country's 5G market on grounds of national security -- even though most of the UK's mobile operators are pressing ahead with the construction of 5G networks that use Huawei technology.
BT, Vodafone and Three are all working on the assumption that any Huawei ban will be limited to the network "core," the intelligent part of the 5G system, and that Chinese equipment will be allowed in their radio access networks.
A comprehensive ban would force them to rip out mobile basestations at considerable expense -- partly because they would also have to replace Huawei's 4G equipment to avoid interoperability problems with an alternative 5G supplier.
Pressure on the UK to ban Huawei has come from US authorities, which have persistently argued that Chinese network equipment could include "backdoors" that allow China's government to spy on other countries.
Huawei has repeatedly denied those charges, pointing to a lack of concrete evidence and insisting it has no links to the Chinese state.
A decision is fraught with risk for Johnson as the UK prepares to leave the European Union at the end of this month. Upsetting either China or the US could jeopardize all-important negotiations on future, post-Brexit trade agreements with those countries.
Liu's comments may be seen as a thinly disguised threat of repercussions for the UK it if moves to exclude China's biggest equipment vendor from the 5G market.
Last year, before Johnson replaced Theresa May as prime minister, UK authorities were thought to be nearing the compromise favored by operators, under which Huawei would be allowed to sell radio gear but not core network products.
Such a decision would have caused minimal disruption for the UK telecom sector: Neither Vodafone nor Three uses Chinese products in the core, and BT has been phasing Huawei out of the mobile core it acquired with its EE takeover in 2016 under long-standing company rules that prohibit the use of Chinese vendors in this part of the network.
Huawei's critics say this compromise is unsatisfactory because the lines between the core and the radio access networks are blurring with the transition to 5G.
Ericsson, Huawei's biggest rival, has voiced similar views. "5G will blur the distinction that has previously existed between the core and the radio access network," said Arun Bansal, the head of Ericsson's business in Europe and Latin America, during an interview with Light Reading last year. "That boundary will disappear in 5G simply because of the way the architecture will be done, and it will be very hard to say this is core and this is radio."
Besides warning of various setbacks for the UK if it bans Huawei, China's Liu dangled the prospect of benefits should it resist US pressure. "Making the right choice will help foster sound conditions for deeper and mutually beneficial cooperation between China and the UK and deliver more benefit to the peoples of our two countries," he tweeted.
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading