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US presses British officials to block Huawei from 5G network

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to be presented with an "alternative."

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US officials want their UK counterparts to exclude Huawei equipment from its next-generation 5G network.

Arne Dedert/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

US officials were in London on Monday in a last-ditch effort to persuade British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government not to allow Huawei equipment to be used on its 5G network. The delegation argued that there was no way the UK could reduce the security risks posed by Huawei having access to the network, Bloomberg reported, citing an unidentified person familiar with the meeting.

Huawei is the world's second-largest phone manufacturer by volume, but it has struggled to make a dent in the US, partly because of concerns expressed by the government, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, the Federal Communications Commission and House Intelligence Committee. The US has long alleged that Huawei maintains a tight relationship with the Chinese government, creating fear that equipment from these manufacturers could be used to spy on other countries and companies.

However, Johnson told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday that Britain deserved "access to the best possible technology." His government determined that some of Huawei's gear isn't available in the West, so Britain's next-generation wireless infrastructure could be left behind if it doesn't do business with the Chinese company.

"We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody. Now if people oppose one brand or another then they have to tell us what's the alternative," he said.

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In an emailed statement following Johnson's comments, a UK government spokesperson noted that the "security and resilience of the UK's telecoms networks is of paramount importance."

"The government continues to consider its position on high-risk vendors and a decision will be made in due course," they wrote.

Johnson is reportedly ready to follow predecessor Theresa May's lead and give the controversial Chinese telecom equipment maker access to "non-contentious" parts of the UK's next-generation wireless infrastructure. That move would run contrary to the position of US President Donald Trump, who banned Huawei because of its alleged links to the Chinese government. Britain is expected to make a decision about whether to include the Chinese company's equipment in the network later this month.

Huawei representatives didn't respond to a request for comment, while Johnson's office didn't immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Senator Marco Rubio on Wednesday published a letter he wrote to Johnson pushing for the Huawei 5G block. Calling the UK "our closest ally," Johnson, a member of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said there is "ample evidence" that Huawei is tied to the Chinese government. 

"While the United Kingdom has strong communication and cybersecurity safeguards in place, there are widespread and serious concerns that such measures are inadequate given what the United States, and other Five Eye partners, know about Huawei," Rubio wrote, adding the UK's decision would impact the security of the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

"I hope that you will promptly reject Huawei's inclusion in any aspect of the United Kingdom's 5G."

Originally published Jan. 13.
Updates, Jan. 14: Adds government comment; Jan. 15: Adds Rubio comment.