Canada’s Liberal government said this week that it intends to bar Huawei Technologies Co. from participating in the 5G wireless network to be rolled out in the country, with Canada’s intelligence and defense agencies strongly arguing against any possible connections between the Chinese company and the Chinese government, including the potential theft of American and Canadian trade secrets.
The ban likely raises more questions about a company already entangled in security worries over its work on the 5G network in the United States.
The government’s decision was announced Friday by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who said that Canada’s security agencies told his cabinet that “any communication network owned and operated by Huawei would be subject to the overall protection of national security.”
Huawei, the biggest maker of mobile phones in the world, has been already blocked in the United States and has faced concerns from government agencies and partners in Europe over its alleged links to the Chinese government. The company denies that it has improper ties with the Chinese government.
Under a joint project with Canada, Huawei built a wireless network for the 2016 Winter Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But the company’s 4G connections were widely seen as rudimentary, and the Canadian company Telus built its own wireless network for the opening ceremony, considered the centerpiece of that year’s Olympics in South Korea.
With 5G services, the line between the super-fast speeds that companies such as Telus and Rogers Communications have built for themselves and those that 5G services are expected to offer is more blurry. Experts say that 5G would be used in cars, medical research and, potentially, in the infrastructure of an all-out cyberwar that’s likely to emerge in the coming years.
“We don’t have much of a choice about it,” said Michael Byers, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in Chinese foreign policy and international security policy. “There’s just so much pressure on the government to stop any contact with Huawei and so much industry pressure to do it. It’s just unavoidable.”
Byers said that the move by the Canadian government would likely force Huawei’s hand in finding a way to work alongside major U.S. carriers, though the Chinese company could also work with major Canadian carriers.
But it’s not just the potential implications for Canadian and U.S. security that have raised the alarm.
According to the Wall Street Journal, in March the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report that charged that Huawei acted as an arm of the Chinese government and military. The company denied the allegations in a statement, and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the report was “a product of a domestic U.S. interest group.”
U.S. and Canadian intelligence agencies have accused the Chinese government of extensive hacking of American companies.
The Chinese government has, in turn, accused U.S. agencies of secretly colluding with Chinese intelligence agencies to target and steal the wealth of Chinese companies.
And in April, it began prosecuting Huawei employees for economic espionage for trying to spy on the United States, the largest number of cases to date for a Chinese government.
Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the company’s founder, has been jailed in Canada since December, charged with obstructing a U.S. investigation into an alleged sanctions violation by Huawei. U.S. authorities have sought to arrest Meng since December but in early March, Chinese authorities apprehended her while she was transiting through Vancouver. Meng was released on bail and has been living in Canada with her father.
For now, Huawei’s role in the 5G network is restricted to being a “supplier of components” rather than being a direct provider, by far the largest difference between Huawei and a Canadian or American company.
But “if the media reports are true that Huawei was involved in espionage in the United States, that would be a very severe relationship with the Chinese government,” said Kevin Carrico, an assistant professor of political science at Regent University who has written extensively about China’s policies toward its business dealings.