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Artillery Row

IDS: challenges to Huawei’s leeway “in play”

The former Conservative leader gives a damning assessment of the lack of strategic analysis of Chinese methods

Leading Huawei sceptic, Iain Duncan Smith, reveals in this week’s Critic podcast that many parliamentary colleagues he has spoken to since Oliver Dowden’s announcement in the Commons on Tuesday “are a bit uneasy about elements of it” and want to take the time to study the detail before deciding whether to try and push the Government further.

“We need to pull it apart a bit,” Duncan Smith said. There is time to do so. Dowden has promised a telecoms security bill in the autumn to write the restrictions into law. This will provide the opportunity for sceptical Tory MPs to back amendments designed to toughen the terms on Huawei.

Government sources had raised expectations that telecom operators would be given three years to strip out Huawei from the 5G network. Tuesday’s announcement that they would be given seven years was thus seen as a reprieve. But it is this part of the balancing act that has upset the growing number of Tory MPs whose attitudes towards China are hardening and for whom the prospect of a “high-risk vendor” playing a pivotal role in the UK’s data transmission until 2027 represents a greater risk than they believe is truly required to meet the practicalities of stripping out Huawei kit.

we are now facing a genuine, serious threat from a very aggressive, intolerant, Chinese Communist government

If Tory rebels are going to support amendments in the autumn, then reducing the leeway given to Huawei will be a priority. Speaking to The Critic, Duncan Smith believes that five years represents more than enough time to remove Huawei from 5G, “let’s get it done before the next election and make a clear break with it.” He sees this timeframe as a political imperative because no restrictions have been placed on Huawei’s role in the UK’s 4G network. “Huawei will continue to upgrade their 4G systems with big software changes” and “they will use this as a vehicle to demonstrate that they are perfectly safe.” This claim will be advanced through a massive lobbying exercise to persuade the Government that Huawei’s good behaviour and usefulness to 4G should be re-extended to 5G. There will be “big pressure on the government from companies like BT to say ‘give us another four years.’”

Potentially more damaging to Huawei – and the Government – would be amendments on human rights violations, a subject that could unite all Opposition parties with the Tory rebels. Duncan Smith maintains that Huawei’s claim to be compliant with the Modern Slavery Act needs to be fully investigated. “These are areas that the government needs to decide” he says, “if they are proven, will the Secretary of State then make the decision that Huawei are no longer allowed to be selling into our systems?” This would involve stripping Huawei out of 3G and 4G as well.

In The Critic’s podcast, Duncan Smith also discusses the consequences of a naive understanding and uncordinated response from western nations towards the threat that China now presents to them. Following China’s admission to the WTO in 2001, “they have abused every rule that they wish to abuse” and without a strategic lead from western governments, companies have “taken a short term view” to doing business with China. Through massive state subsidies, “Huawei has been able to go into the free world and under-bid every normal market company so that when this all started, ten, twelve years ago, we had about ten suppliers of telecom systems and more suppliers originally of technology work on full-fibre. This has all crashed because one-by-one they’ve gone out of business because they’ve been undercut financially.” Huawei has won not because its technology was better but because the subsidies it received allowed it to swamp western competitors adhering to market disciplines.

“In the pursuit of cheaper products we have now discovered that our internal strategies have collapsed. So we’re vulnerable now on security; vulnerable in geopolitical terms to a very aggressive nation now disputing its borders with others.” A failure ten years ago to stand-up to China’s benefiting from a free market whose rules she did not herself adhere to has meant that, “we are now facing a genuine, serious threat from a very aggressive, intolerant, Chinese Communist government and one that has an enormous economy now.”

Iain Duncan Smith’s views on Huawei and how western countries can co-operate to reduce dependence on China can be heard in full in this week’s Critic podcast.

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