LONDON • Britain said on Friday it was pushing the United States to form a club of 10 nations that could develop its own 5G technology and reduce dependence on China’s controversial telecommunications giant Huawei.
The issue is expected to feature at a Group of Seven (G-7) summit that US President Donald Trump will host next month against the backdrop of a fierce confrontation with China exacerbated by a global blame game over the spread of the coronavirus.
Britain has allowed the Chinese global leader in 5G technology to build up to 35 per cent of the infrastructure necessary to roll out its new speedy data network.
But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reported by The Daily Telegraph on May 23 to have instructed officials to draw up plans to cut Huawei out of the network by 2023 as relations with China sour.
The Times newspaper said Britain is proposing a “D10” club of democratic partners which will group the G-7 nations with Australia and Asian technology leaders South Korea and India.
It said one of the options involves channelling investments into existing telecoms companies within the 10 member states.
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that Britain is reaching out to partners in search of an alternative to Huawei.
“We (are) seeking new entrants into the market in order to diversify and that is something we’ve been speaking with our allies about, including the United States,” said the spokesman.
Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson are Europe’s only current alternative options for supplying 5G equipment such as antennas and relay masts.
“We need new entrants to the market,” a British government source told The Times.
“(The lack of choice) was the reason we ended up having to go along with Huawei at the time.”
Mr Johnson’s decision to include Huawei angered Washington because it believes the private Chinese company can either spy on Western communications or simply shut down the British network under orders from Beijing.
The US has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Huawei which have put the future of Britain’s 5G roll-out in peril.
Downing Street said the UK National Cyber Security Centre was studying the implications of the US sanctions on Huawei’s immediate ability to produce the equipment Britain needs.
Pressure on Mr Johnson to cut ties with Huawei is being compounded by the new security law Beijing plans to impose on the once British-held Hong Kong.
But Mr Johnson’s reported plan to completely remove Huawei from the British network could prove costly at a time when his government is seeking new trade partners following Britain’s exit from the European Union.