#DTXEurope: Huawei Dispute Symbolic of Wider Problems in Telecoms Industry

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Speaking in the opening keynote session of Digital Transformation EXPO Europe Sir John Sawers, former chief, Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), said that the ongoing dispute between the US and Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is symbolic of broader problems affecting the global telecoms industry.

“A big thing has been made about the intelligence and security threat posed by having Huawei equipment in the British national system," he said. “I actually tend to play that down a little bit. I think we have a rather good system here in the UK whereby all Chinese equipment that goes into the UK national infrastructure goes through a checking station run by GCHQ, and we’ve not, in the 20 years that we’ve had Huawei equipment in our system, experienced it being used by the Chinese state for espionage purposes.”

However, there is a wider problem in the telecoms industry because there are so few suppliers and manufacturers supplying goods, he explained, and you have no “big American player.”

This is what has led to the US making such an issue around Huawei technology in recent months, Sawers argued, pin-pointing three specific matters that have played a particular role in the dispute..

The first is that there is a potential espionage threat that needs to be managed, and we do all have to be mindful of that.

Secondly, and more importantly, “there’s the industrial policy argument, where the West needs its own telecoms national infrastructure manufacturers, so that we can rely on Western-made, Western-designed kit,” Sawers argued.

Thirdly, Huawei has become a “point of leverage in the wider US-China trade negotiations.”

So, the Huawei issue is “much more complicated than is sometimes presented (as a simple one about national security and intelligence threats) and it’s about a much wider issue of the control of technology,” Sawers pointed out.

“In essence, it’s a microcosm of the challenges the West is going to face during the 2020s. As we move into a world of competition between powers, competition over technology and a time when Western politics is not as healthy or as unified as it has been before, it creates a very complicated backdrop for those who are in the technology business,” he concluded.

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