The U.S. government’s concerns about potential espionage via Huawei products have reached heightened alert with multiple officials now conducting outreach with foreign allies in an effort to persuade them to forgo the use of telecom equipment from the China-based company, according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal.
American government officials have been holding talks with their counterparts in countries where Huawei’s equipment is already in use, including Germany, Italy and Japan. The U.S. government may also be considering increasing financial assistance for telecommunications development in countries that disavow the use of Chinese-made equipment, according to the WSJ.
Huawei is the largest wireless network equipment vendor in the world, but opposition to the company has gained momentum of late. The FCC earlier this year took action against network equipment sales by Huawei, which prompted the company to largely give up on the U.S. market. Meanwhile, AT&T, Verizon and other U.S. carriers have dropped plans to sell Huawei phones, and the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese products are having a punishing effect as well.
While much of the U.S. government’s opposition to Huawei and smaller Chinese companies like ZTE can be traced back to 2012, concerns about the potential for espionage via Chinese made equipment had been building for years prior to a damaging report issued by the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for the U.S. House of Representatives.
The current outreach campaign by U.S. government officials is primarily centered around countries that host American military bases, according to the WSJ. While the Defense Department uses its own telecom network for sensitive communications, most traffic at military bases is transmitted via commercial networks.
The international squeeze also reflects a growing sense of urgency as the operators around the world prepare to buy new telecom hardware for 5G. An unnamed U.S. official involved in these talks told WSJ that the advancement of 5G amplifies concerns about cybersecurity, adding that “there are additional complexities to 5G networks that make them more vulnerable to cyberattacks.”
The ultimate goal of these discussions with U.S. allies is to dissuade governments and telecom executives from using Huawei network components in government or commercially operated networks. In response to the latest opposition, Huawei issued a statement to the WSJ that said it was “surprised by the behaviors of the U.S. government” and that “such activity should not be encouraged.”