UK in Talks with Japanese Tech Firm to Replace Huawei in 5G as Tensions Increase with China: Report

CHIBA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 12: An attendee uses a smartphone as he tries the 5G networks in the NTT Docomo Inc. booth on the business day of the Tokyo Game Show 2019 at Makuhari Messe on September 12, 2019 in Chiba, Japan. The Tokyo Game Show will be open to …
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

The British government is reportedly talking with Japanese firm NEC and South Korean company Samsung about diversifying the UK’s options for technology, in another strong signal that Britain is serious about pulling Chinese Huawei out of her telecommunications networks.

British officials spoke with NEC in May about bringing the Japanese company into Britain’s 5G market through a trial programme called “5G Create”, according to a source speaking to Bloomberg.

The Johnson administration is also reportedly speaking with South Korean company Samsung about developing 5G infrastructure, according to the Bloomberg report published on Wednesday.

The British government has been under pressure from international allies after Johnson gave the go-ahead to Huawei to build 35 per cent of the UK’s next-generation 5G network. Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners the United States and Australia have warned that engagement of the effectively state-owned Chinese company was a security risk, with Huawei able to build a backdoor into British networks, which can be used by Beijing spies.

Last month, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of the signals intelligence service the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), announced that it would conduct a security review of Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G following U.S. sanctions on the company. Tory rebels who are against the prime minister’s plans to employ Huawei hope that the report is a means of formally cutting ties with Huawei over the 5G deal.

Prime Minister Johnson declined to deny on Wednesday he is looking for a way out of the arrangement, which has not yet been passed into law. He said during Wednesday’s Downing Street press briefing: “On high-risk vendors in our critical national infrastructure… we’ve got to make sure that we have solutions for the UK that protect UK security.”

But periphery reports strongly suggest that has changed his mind.

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Dominic Raab is reportedly leading up “Project Defend”, which will examine the UK’s economic resilience. It will report on vulnerable supply chains that are strategic for national security but which may be dependent on foreign countries, including China.

The review was reportedly activated after the UK struggled to source medical equipment during the coronavirus lockdown, with items like masks and ventilators coming from the communist superpower. It is believed the review will be used as a blueprint for self-sufficiency. An earlier report had revealed that the UK was reliant on China for 71 “critical goods” categories including electronics, personal protective equipment (PPE), and pharmaceuticals.

Even if the UK does pull Huawei out of future 5G plans, the Chinese tech firm still makes up around one-third of the country’s 4G mobile network service antennas and is used by major providers EE, Three, and Vodaphone. British officials have also therefore been tasked with drawing up plans to pull Huawei out entirely by no later than 2023.

Mr Johnson is also said to be exploring state financial aid for tech companies to replace dependence on Chinese tech firms.

The need to shore up and protect British companies come after Nigel Farage had warned that Chinese interests are lining up for a “fire sale” of British tech businesses affected by the economic downturn caused by the Wuhan coronavirus, with senior Conservatives echoing those concerns.

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