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'Tide Is Turning'

State Dept.'s Strayer Calls Huawei, Other Firms Growing 5G Threat

A State Department official built the U.S. case against Huawei and other Chinese companies and the threat they pose to 5G and the communications supply chain. “Trust cannot exist where a telecom vendor is subject to an authoritarian government” like China, said Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary-cyber and international communications and information policy, during a Thursday Telecommunications Industry Association webinar.

U.S. officials are taking an increasingly tough stance against China after a failed trade deal, including a speech last week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Nixon Library in California. The FCC is also taking a tougher stance (see 2007160051). Huawei, ZTE and the Chinese Embassy didn’t comment now.

Chinese law “requires all organizations and citizens to support the Chinese national intelligence agencies and to keep their cooperation secret,” Strayer said: “They must do so without an independent judiciary or the ability to avail themselves of rule of law objections.”

Huawei’s ownership isn’t transparent “and it has a history of unethical and illegal behavior including massive intellectual property theft,” Strayer said. Chinese companies are working with authoritarian governments around the world “to suppress freedom of expression and other basic human rights through arbitrary surveillance, censorship and targeted restrictions on internet access,” he said.

The tide is turning against Huawei as citizens and governments around the world are waking up to the dangers of the Chinese Communist Party surveillance state,” Strayer said. “More and more countries are taking strong action to secure their 5G networks.” Strayer praised the U.K. for deciding to phase out Huawei equipment from its networks (see 2007140023). The Czech Republic, Poland and Romania adopted rules to protect such networks from high-risk vendors, with action pending in other European nations, he said.

Economic security is national security,” Strayer said. “Everyone now realizes the importance of digital technology to telemedicine, for education and for all types of business.” The consequences of COVID-19 would be much worse without communications technology, he said.

There were once 11 suppliers of network gear, now there are three, said James Lewis, director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Some blame this on “predatory behavior” by some suppliers, he said. “We in the U.S. … have noted an immense uptick in espionage, and telecom is central for the future of espionage,” Lewis said.

Officials from Germany and Japan agreed security is important but didn't take the same tough stance on the Chinese suppliers. “This is an important topic at a very special time,” said Daniela Bronstrup, deputy director-general of Germany’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. “The current pandemic has put the issue of supply-chain security high again on the agenda.” Companies “were reminded of how important it is to have their supply chains stable, diverse and resilient,” she said: “For governments, the question is what measures need to be taken to secure supply chains.”

The German government “doesn’t interfere with the day-to-day business” of communications providers but is “very serious” about security, Bronstrup said. “The federal government is pursuing an approach that is neutral … with regard to manufacturers and technologies,” she said. Critical network components must be tested and certified by Germany’s cybersecurity authority and will be “subjected to regular continuous security tests,” she said. Operators have to prove that hardware and security used is the same as what was tested and licensed. Lewis found it “a little troubling” that Bronstrup emphasized Germany was working with “European partners,” not mentioning the U.S.

Japan has tried to ensure safety and security for 5G networks by requiring applicants for 5G frequencies to take cybersecurity measures," said Eiji Makiguchi, director-general of the Global Strategy Bureau at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. A new law provides tax incentives “to facilitate open and trustworthy 5G networks,” he said.

I don’t think I can remember a period where technology, policy, security and a driving need for communications, have been more intertwined or more important to our global future,” said TIA CEO David Stehlin. As 5G launches, “the risks are high,” he said: The U.S. must work with “trusted” allies to make the supply chain secure and industry must work with government.