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Why the controversy over Huawei technology in UK networks?

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A man uses his smartphone as he stands near a billboard for Chinese technology firm Huawei at the PT Expo in Beijing

The White House believes China will use its platform in the UK to spy on Washington. Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

As the UK government prepares to decide whether or not to allow Huawei to be involved in setting up a key portion of the nation’s infrastructure, US officials have issued a stark warning that allowing the Chinese firm a role would put transatlantic intelligence sharing at risk.

Why are the Americans so concerned?

To put it bluntly, the White House believes the Chinese state will use Huawei to help it spy.

Officials in Washington believe the company poses a security risk because the Chinese government will make the firm engineer backdoors in its technology, through which information could be accessed by Beijing.

Donald Trump has banned US companies from sharing technology with Huawei and has been putting pressure on other nations to follow his lead. In the UK’s case, Washington says that allowing Huawei to manufacture parts of the 5G network infrastructure will risk exposing state secrets to Chinese spies.

What is the British view?

While they have accepted there is some risk in working with Huawei, the UK’s security services do not believe it to be unmanageable.

Some security concerns have been raised but the intelligences agencies have not linked them to Chinese state influence.

The UK government has agreed in principle to allow Huawei to be involved in building “non-core” parts of the UK’s 5G network. With a final decision expected within weeks, the head of MI5 had recently said he was confident the US-UK intelligence-sharing relationship would not be affected if London gave Huawei the nod.

What do Huawei say?

Huawei insists it has never been asked to build any backdoor into its technology by the Chinese government and has offered to sign a “no spy agreement” with countries adopting it.

Amid concerns that the Chinese government could force Huawei’s hand, the firm’s former chairman Liang Hua said last May there were “no laws requiring the companies to collect intelligence from foreign governments”.

Is there more at play here?

Huawei certainly think so. During Trump’s presidency, the trade rivalry between the US and China has intensified and the firm believes the White House is simply using it as a weapon in that larger fight.

Huawei’s chairman, Eric Xu, has said the US government was in the midst of a “strategic and long-term” campaign against it. A senior Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, is fighting extradition from Canada to the US where she faces fraud charges.

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