Politics

State Department says U.S. will reassess intelligence-sharing with Canada if it lets Huawei into 5G

The United States is prepared to reassess its intelligence-sharing arrangement with Canada if Huawei is given the green light to take part in building Canada's 5G networks, a State Department spokesperson said today.

Canada has yet to make a decision on Huawei, despite nearly two years of pondering the question

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday August 22, 2019. The U.S. State Department says Washington would have to reevaluate its intelligence-sharing arrangement with Canada if Ottawa allows Huawei to take part in building its 5G networks. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The United States is prepared to reassess its intelligence-sharing arrangement with Canada if Huawei is given the green light to take part in building Canada's 5G networks, a State Department spokesperson said today.

The federal government still has not announced its decision on whether the Chinese telecom giant will be allowed to participate in building Canada's next-generation wireless networks, despite more than a year and a half of assessing the question.

"We in the U.S. government have made it very clear to all of our friends and allies around the world that if Huawei is allowed into a country's national security systems, we will have to protect our intelligence-sharing relationship," Morgan Ortagus, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, told CBC News today.

"We'll have to make an assessment if we can continue sharing intelligence with countries who have Huawei inside their most sensitive technology, in their most sensitive national security areas.

"We think that the Canadian government will make their own sovereign decisions and what's best for Canada's national security."

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Huawei and 5G

Trudeau questioned about Huawei

Politics

6 months agoVideo
1:27
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters on Thursday. 1:27


The prime minister didn't say today when Canadians can expect a decision on Huawei and 5G, or whether he's willing to risk injuring the relationship with Canada's closest ally by allowing the Chinese telecom giant to participate in the networks.

"Every step of the way, we have listened to our security agencies, our intelligence agencies, worked with our allies," Trudeau said in response to a reporter's question today. "We will make the right decision for Canadians to both keep Canadians and businesses safe while at the same time ensuring competitiveness in our telecom industry."

Some private companies aren't waiting for Ottawa to make a decision. Bell and Telus announced yesterday that they would not be working with Huawei as they pursue their 5G plans. Instead, both are opting to use equipment from European companies Ericsson and Nokia.

Washington has long argued that Huawei poses a national security threat because the Chinese government has the power to compel private companies like Huawei to hand over sensitive information. Huawei's critics say they fear the company would conduct espionage on behalf of Beijing.

U.S. tries to clip Huawei's wings

Contacted by CBC News, Huawei's VP for corporate affairs in Canada said State's "threats" are consistent with "the Trump administration's preference for bullying and coercing rivals and allies alike. "

"Huawei has operated in Canada for more than a decade without a single security incident related to our equipment. Not one," said Alykhan Velshi. "We look forward to the Government of Canada making an evidence-based decision on Huawei's role in Canada's 5G rollout.

"This decision should be made by, in, and for Canada, not Donald Trump's Washington."

In recent weeks, while much of the world has been focused on the pandemic's rising death toll, Washington has announced new measures aimed at curbing Huawei's global influence.

On May 15, the U.S. Department of Commerce changed its export control rules to restrict "... Huawei's ability to use U.S. technology and software to design and manufacture its semiconductors abroad."

The move is meant to make it harder for Huawei to obtain the supplies it needs, to significantly raise its operating costs and to force the company to rely on goods that may be less reliable and more vulnerable.

As a middle power, Canada often has found itself taking collateral diplomatic damage from tensions between U.S. and China, as both superpowers fight to become the global leader in technology.

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, leaves B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, Thursday, January 23, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

That damage started ramping up in December of 2018, when Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request.

Beijing immediately demanded her release and executed swift retaliatory actions. Two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — were arbitrarily detained in China; they've been held for more than 500 days. Beijing took trade action as well, halting large purchases of Canadian canola and, for a time, Canadian pork.

Ortagus condemned China's imprisonment of the two Canadians. She said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has brought this issue up regularly during high-profile meetings with his Chinese counterparts. 

"The United States, we're taking a lot of actions, doing everything we can behind the scenes with the Canadian government," she said.

Asked if the United States might deploy sanctions to pressure China to release the two men, Ortagus said "we're not going to preview any public actions that we may take."

About the Author

Katie Simpson is a foreign correspondent with CBC News based in Washington. Prior to joining the team in D.C. she spent six years covering Parliament Hill in Ottawa and nearly a decade covering local and provincial issues in Toronto.

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