China's ambassador warns that banning Huawei from 5G would send 'a very wrong signal'
Canada has stalled on publicly declaring which companies can supply equipment to 5G network
China's ambassador to Canada said Tuesday that denying Huawei Technologies access to Canada's next-generation 5G wireless network would send a "very wrong signal" — raising the diplomatic stakes for the Trudeau government as it prepares to issue a decision on the file.
While some of Canada's Five Eyes intelligence-sharing allies have made aggressive moves against Huawei — citing concerns that it is an arm of Chinese military intelligence — Canada has stalled on publicly declaring which companies will be permitted to supply equipment to providers of 5G networks.
Beijing's top diplomat in Ottawa, Ambassador Cong Peiwu, suggested today a decision by Ottawa denying the media giant access would be received poorly by the Chinese business community.
"That will be sending out a very wrong signal to the Chinese companies," he said during an event hosted by the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
"I would like to suggest someone [is] trying to politicize the issue ... to try to abuse and overstretch the concept of national security, and that is not conducive for people doing business here in Canada."
Canada's Conservatives have long pressed the Liberals to deny Huawei a role in building the 5G infrastructure, arguing that would allow China to spy on Canadians more easily.
China's National Intelligence Law says Chinese organizations and citizens "shall support, assist and co-operate with state intelligence work."
Cong claimed that allegations Huawei is a security threat were "invented by the United States."
He went so far as to deny Beijing participates in espionage — something Canada's spy agency has accused China of doing.
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"China, we don't do this kind of thing, you know, spying, or electronic monitoring. It is the United States that have been doing these kinds of things over the past decades," Cong said.
"We do hope that the Canadian side will make the judgment on its own and not be listening to the opinion from the United States and to provide a just, fair, open and non-discriminatory business environment to the Chinese investors and companies."
Decision is coming, new minister promises
Last week, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said "a decision" on Huawei "is forthcoming."
"When we take that decision, it will be in the national interest and in the public interest of all Canadians," he told CBC's The House.
"We have in place and we'll continue to put in place the measures that are necessary to protect our critical infrastructure, including cyber."
Fifth-generation networks — 5G — promise to give users faster online connections and expanded data capacity.
WATCH | China's ambassador to Canada on lessons learned
The federal government launched a review of the companies that will be permitted to service 5G networks during its first mandate. But the government largely went silent on its progress after China imprisoned Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor nearly three years ago — an apparent act of retaliation for the RCMP's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.
The two Canadians returned home in September, just hours after the extradition case against Wanzhou was dropped.
"Let us hope that the lessons will be learned," said Cong.
"I think that currently we have to make sure that the principle of mutual respect and equal treatment is gaining more prominence in this age because over the past three years it has been proven, once again, by the Meng Wanzhou incident, anything that undermines the principle will actually make our relationship suffer."
Speaking to the Canadian Press last month, Alykhan Velshi, Huawei Canada's vice-president of corporate affairs, insisted the company does not spy for China.
"We sell in 180 countries around the world," he said. "We have to comply with the laws of each of those countries. And if we were to violate the trust, we would find ourselves only selling in one country."
With files from the Canadian Press