LONDON — Britain said on Tuesday that it would not ban equipment made by the Chinese technology giant Huawei from being used in its new high-speed 5G wireless network, the starkest sign yet that an American campaign against the telecommunications company is faltering.
Despite more than a year of intense lobbying by the Trump administration, which has accused Huawei of having ties to China’s Communist Party that pose a national security threat, the British government announced it would allow the company to provide equipment in some portions of a next-generation network to be built in the coming years.
The British decision was crucial in a broader fight for tech supremacy between the United States and China. Britain, a key American ally, is the most important country so far to reject White House warnings that Huawei is an instrument of Beijing. Britain’s membership in the “five eyes” intelligence-sharing group of countries, which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand, gave the outcome an added significance.
Many countries have been caught between the United States and China in their tech cold war. American officials have threatened to withhold intelligence if countries do not ban Huawei, while Chinese representatives have warned of economic retaliation if they do.
“This is a U.K.-specific solution for U.K.-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now,” said Nicky Morgan, the secretary for digital, culture, media and sport, the government agency that oversaw the decision.
“It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers,” she said.
The rules were announced on Tuesday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with his National Security Council. The decision did not mention Huawei by name, instead referring more broadly to “high-risk vendors” that “pose greater security and resilience risks to U.K. telecoms networks.” Such vendors will be limited to certain parts of the wireless infrastructure, such as antennas and base stations, that are not seen as posing a threat to the integrity of the system.
No single high-risk vendor will be allowed to exceed a 35 percent market share of the network, the rules said, an effort to encourage new competition that could benefit companies including Nokia and Ericsson.
A Trump administration official said the United States was “disappointed” by Mr. Johnson’s decision.
“We look forward to working with the U.K. on a way forward that results in the exclusion of untrusted vendor components from 5G networks,” the official said. “We continue to urge all countries to carefully assess the long-term national security and economic impacts of allowing untrusted vendors access to important 5G network infrastructure.”
Huawei has long denied that it is beholden to the Chinese government.
“Huawei is reassured by the U.K. government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G rollout on track,” Victor Zhang, Huawei’s vice president, said in a statement. “This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future.”
The crown jewel of China’s tech sector, Huawei is the largest provider of equipment to build systems based on fifth-generation wireless technology, known as 5G. That technology is seen as essential infrastructure in an increasingly digitized global economy. The networks will provide dramatically faster download speeds, as well as new commercial applications in industries such as transportation, manufacturing and health care.
Huawei’s prominence has made it a target of the United States. Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, is fighting an extradition order in Canada stemming from an American indictment on fraud charges.
The Trump administration’s global effort against Huawei has had some success. In 2018, Australia imposed a ban on Huawei gear, and Japan put restrictions on purchasing Huawei equipment for government use.
But in Europe, the White House has had more trouble. While the European Union has warned of national security risks related to 5G, it has not called out China or Huawei by name or recommended an outright ban. In France, the government said it didn’t believe a ban was necessary. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has shared similar views, though a final decision has not been made and some in the government are calling for a harder line.
Perhaps no country was lobbied by the United States and China as hard as Britain, delaying the country’s decision-making about building its new 5G network. President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have all warned Britain in recent weeks. Earlier this month, an American delegation visited London to make a last-minute case against Huawei. Mr. Pompeo is scheduled to visit Britain this week.
Huawei first began working in Britain more than 15 years ago and now employs 1,600 people in the country, helping it gain acceptance and a foothold to expand to other parts of Europe. Combined with the Middle East and Africa, Europe is now Huawei’s largest market outside of China.
Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London, said the British announcement is “a big deal” that gives Huawei “a level of credibility that it craves.”
British officials have said the risk Huawei presents can be managed through oversight and by limiting its access to more critical areas of the network that handle sensitive data. Huawei would be limited to providing antennas and other equipment that send data directly to consumer devices, and kept out of areas considered the nerve center of the network, such as servers that route traffic within the system.
Britain has always kept Huawei out of those parts of its telecommunications networks that handle sensitive data to limit the vulnerability to espionage or eavesdropping. In 2010, British officials set up a lab where Huawei’s equipment could be reviewed for security flaws. The lab has identified security vulnerabilities in the equipment, but officials have said the problems weren’t a result of interference from the Chinese government and could be managed.
“High risk vendors have never been — and never will be — in our most sensitive networks,” said Ciaran Martin, the chief executive of the National Cyber Security Center that oversees the lab.
American officials disagree that the risks can be contained since software plays a bigger role in 5G networks, with constantly-updating code making it harder to maintain complete oversight.
“Digital technology is being upgraded regularly and a level of risk with present-day technology that is manageable today may or may not be so four or five years down the line,” Mr. Tsang said.
The decision over whether to use Huawei equipment in Britain’s 5G network would usually be a technical one made by agencies that oversee cybersecurity and the nation’s digital infrastructure. But it became a political dilemma that spanned two administrations — first Theresa May when she was British prime minister, and now Boris Johnson.
British officials and executives at wireless companies have said the United States did not share smoking-gun evidence that would justify a ban of the Chinese company. American officials emphasized the vulnerabilities it could create within a national communications network in the event of a future confrontation with China.
Under the rules announced on Tuesday, high-risk firms would be excluded from providing technology at sensitive geographic locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases.
“There is definitely a potential security risk,” said Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert and visiting professor at the University of Surrey. “Is it manageable? That is the big question out there.”
Britain is in a precarious position as it negotiates an exit from the European Union. The country must forge new stand-alone trade deals in the aftermath. So while maintaining close ties to Washington is vital for Britain’s security and economy, it also needs to foster ties with China, which is a significant investor in the country and a growing buyer of British good“Post-Brexit Britain will increasingly have to rely on China even more than we already do,” said Anthony Glees, professor emeritus at the University of Buckingham, where he was head of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies.
Mr. Woodward said Huawei provides the best technology at the most affordable price for components essential for operating new networks. A ban, he said, would have left the country’s network overly dependent on Huawei’s biggest rivals — Ericsson and Nokia.
British telecommunications companies have warned that banning Huawei would be costly and cause delays because old equipment would have to be replaced.
David McCabe contributed reporting from Washington.
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