The U.S. should continue to dissuade other countries from taking the financial bait from Chinese-backed telecom giant Huawei in order to obtain next-generation mobile technology at the expense of their national security. Concerns over “backdoor” entry points or bugs installed in phones and computers are dwarfed by the security risk that Chinese 5G digital infrastructure could bring to the driverless vehicles, smart cities, and the Internet of Things of the near-future. In this world, everything you can think of is being measured and analyzed, providing precious data that can be used as a resource for geostrategic manipulation and disruption.
To combat and adapt to our changing climate, our economy will inevitably undergo a transformation into smart sustainable designs driven by technology. Smart cities will include the electrification of the energy sector, homes, and advancements in A.I. technology. 5G will revolutionize the economy by enabling the transfer of dense amounts of data at super-fast speeds required to support the information systems comprised in smart infrastructure.
As of today, Huawei has won 30 5G commercial contracts with more than 40,000 base stations and is already managing networks in large portions of Africa, the Middle East, southeast Asia and southern Europe—compromising secure use in those jurisdictions.
Huawei denies their government’s influence; however, one cannot overlook the red flags that warrant suspicion of Chinese-backed companies like Huawei:
- There is surmountable historical evidence of Chinese cyber-espionage on the U.S., Germany, Africa, Australia and countries hosting their Belt and Road Initiative projects in order to gain leverage on business negotiations, steal intellectual property, and damp down dissent.
- The Chinese government heavily subsidizes Huawei which allows the company to undercut its competitors by 10%. They have also been accused of bribing officials to solidify telecom contracts.
- Chinese policies demand compliance with its national intelligence efforts. Article 7 of The Chinese Communist Party’s 2017 National Intelligence Law states:
“All organizations…in accordance with the law, support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work, and guard the secrecy of national intelligence work they are aware of. The state will protect individuals and organizations that support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work.”
With these aggressive intelligence laws, China has locked-in a powerful intelligence-collection-system. Regardless of any Chinese company’s good intentions, they are required by law to comply with any espionage efforts requested from their government and in return, are offered protection. Furthermore, China’s one-party system ideology which allows the state to exert control through suppression and surveillance of their own people, makes it hard to believe that they will limit enacting the law to just “acceptable” espionage.
The minerals and manufacturing components that make up our phones are manufactured in China. Without strict oversight of the supply-chain, it’s impossible to pin-point essentially where or when a phone or computer has been compromised. Therefore, allowing a company that has a habitual pattern of “bad” espionage and is legally-bound to hand over intelligence on demand to a government that financially supports them, reinforces that the risks are not worth it. Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers at the American Security Project’s event: National Security, Telecommunications and 5G – Using All Tools to Stop Cyber Espionage contended, “…once they’re in, they’re in. You’re not getting them out… any business that you do internationally…you bring that infection with you.”
Currently Japan, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand are keeping Huawei out. However, China’s position as a major international exporter gives it solid leverage to push back against nations that it believes are unfairly discriminating against its companies.
The US must continue to campaign against doing business with Huawei and increase its efforts to incentivize the private sector to procure its own secure 5G network, and provide assistance to poorer nations that want to upgrade their networks without Huawei. Additionally, government organizations must have strict oversight of their telecommunication supply-chain and develop superior encryption and risk mitigation mechanisms in order enable 5G without jeopardizing national security. Within the next decade, it will be impossible to prevent Huawei from controlling a significant share of the global telecom system, creating what analysts are calling the “digital iron curtain” of internets: one led by the U.S. and the other by China.