OTTAWA—The Five Eyes security alliance is presenting a unified front on the need to keep 5G networks free from “foreign government” control, as Ottawa continues to weigh Chinese telecom Huawei’s participation in Canada’s next generation wireless system.
In a joint communiqué issued Thursday, national security ministers from the five countries — Canada, the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand and Australia — said 5G will bring “unparalleled opportunity (but) will increase the risks to the integrity of our telecommunications network.”
The communiqué glossed over any disagreements between the five countries about Huawei’s participation in their respective 5G networks. Both the U.S. and Australia have partially banned Huawei over concerns the China-based company’s equipment could be used for spying.
“There is agreement between the five countries of the need to ensure supply chains are trusted and reliable to protect our networks from unauthorized access or interference,” the communiqué read.
“We recognize the need for a rigorous risk-based evaluation of a range of factors which may include, but not be limited to, control by foreign governments.”
The U.S. has taken an aggressive stance towards the privately-owned Chinese telecom, urging allies to block Huawei products from their 5G networks.
Huawei has repeatedly denied it poses any threat to national security.
The U.K. and Canada, however, are still reviewing Huawei’s participation in 5G networks — the next generation of wireless networks, expected to be dramatically faster and more reliable than 4G.
Canada is conducting a national security review into 5G suppliers, and government officials stress that they are looking at more than just the Huawei issue.
But whatever decision Ottawa makes on Huawei carries political — and national security — risks.
In May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested America would limit intelligence sharing with allied countries who allow Huawei products in their networks. Such a decision could make life difficult for Canada’s intelligence community, which has a close relationship with its American cousins.
The Trump administration is also in the middle of a trade war with Beijing. Allowing Huawei to build up Canada’s 5G infrastructure could drive another wedge in the Canada-Trump relationship.
But following suit with the U.S. to ban Huawei could likewise inflame the already strained relationship between Canada and China. Since Canadian officials arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. authorities last December, China has restricted Canadian exports in canola and pork, and detained two Canadians on charges of spying.
Speaking to The Canadian Press on Tuesday, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said any decision on Huawei’s future in Canada will have to wait until after the fall federal election. Goodale also suggested that the American ban on Huawei products may be about more than just national security.
“You do have, from time to time, senior American officials commenting to the effect that this may be resolved in the context of trade negotiations,” Goodale said.
“So my request to the United States, once again, is we need clarity with respect to the United States’ position.”
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he would ban Huawei outright should his party win power this October.
With files from The Canadian Press
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Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier