Huawei’s most senior executive in the UK has told Sky News he does not expect the Chinese telecoms equipment maker to be excluded from the roll-out of 5G services in the country.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure from the US government to exclude Huawei from 5G roll-out due to security concerns.
The decision was put on ice by Theresa May when she was PM, but Nicky Morgan – whose reappointment as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was announced by Mr Johnson on Monday night – in August promised a verdict by the end of the year.
The decision was then postponed until after the general election.
Donald Trump recently reiterated his opposition to Huawei when, at the NATO summit earlier this month, he said involving the company in 5G roll-out would pose “a security danger”.
However, Victor Zhang, Huawei’s President for Global Government Affairs, told Sky News he was optimistic the UK would not exclude Huawei.
He said: “I am very confident that the UK will choose Huawei because the UK always takes an evidence and facts-based approach and that the decision-making will be based on the nation’s long-term interest and to satisfy society and the benefit of all consumers.
“Huawei have been here in the UK for more than 18 years and trust has been built with our customers and with the UK government through our openness and transparency.”
Asked about the consequences of Huawei being excluded from 5G roll-out, Mr Zhang cited a recent report from Mobile UK, the trade association for the four mobile operators, Vodafone, EE, 3UK and O2.
This said that the cost of ripping out Huawei’s kit and replacing it with that of alternative suppliers, along with a broader hit to the economy, would be more than £7bn.
Mr Zhang added: “We have more than 1,600 employees here in the UK and contributed £1.7bn to the UK GDP [last year] and also we invested £110m in research and development here in the UK last year.”
He pointed out that the UK had been the first and only country to monitor Huawei’s source code at a special centre at Banbury, Oxfordshire, overseen by a board comprised of officials from the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre.
Mr Zhang declined to say whether, if Huawei was excluded from the UK’s 5G roll-out, UK companies doing business in China would suffer reprisals.
This factor is believed to be why Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, recently decided not to exclude Huawei from 5G roll-out in the country in the face of opposition from within her own cabinet, her Christian Democratic Union party and from the head of the German intelligence service.
China is Germany’s largest trading partner and German businesses have been anxious about the possible fall-out from a decision to bar Huawei.
China’s ambassador to Germany has said there “would be consequences” were Germany to exclude Huawei from its 5G roll-out.
Mr Zhang said of the decision: “[As with the UK], we have been in Germany for many years.
“The German government takes a similar evidence and facts-based approach [to that of Britain] and we have worked with the government and with customers like Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom to build trust and support the German digital transformation.”
Ms Merkel’s decision was made despite a warning from the US ambassador to Germany, earlier this year, that US intelligence agencies could reduce their co-operation with their German equivalents were Huawei to be involved in 5G roll-out.
The pressure on Mr Johnson in this regard is likely to be even more intense because, unlike Germany, the UK is part of the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The latter two have already decided against involving Huawei in 5G roll-out and the Trump administration has indicated several times that it expects Britain to follow suit.
Mr Trump is understood to have raised the issue in a private meeting with Mr Johnson during the NATO summit.
The prime minister said at the event: “I don’t want this country to be unnecessarily hostile to investment from overseas.
“On the other hand, we cannot prejudice our vital national security interests.
“Nor can we prejudice our ability to co-operate with other Five Eyes security partners and that will be the key criteria that informs our decision about Huawei.”
Mr Zhang said: “What I heard from Boris Johnson was him welcoming foreign investment in the UK and Huawei is one of the biggest inward sources of investment from China.
“We have invested more than £3bn during the last five years in the UK.”
He said future investment plans included a building global optical chip manufacturing centre in Cambridge during the next five years with the creation of more than 500 well-paid jobs.
He went on: “With regard to the security concerns, parliamentary committees have already made clear Huawei should not be excluded based on security concerns.”