Huawei gets some 5G wins, calls for talks with US

On the global 5G battlefront, it's been a good news week for Huawei – perhaps that's why it still thinks it can get the US to drop its bans.

First, the news. Both Malaysia and Italy are reportedly set to green-light the Chinese vendor.

In Malaysia a former deputy minister of international trade and industry, Kian Ming Ong, has told Sydney Morning Herald it hadn't seen any proof of vulnerabilities in Huawei gear.


Looking up: Good news on the 5G front has prompted Huawei to once again demand talks with the US. (Source: Huawei)

He said the government was likely to select Huawei as prime supplier to its national wholesale 5G network.

That's not a huge surprise. Malaysia has been careful not to provoke its largest foreign investor and it does not have the same security sensitivities as the US and allies.

Italy's decision is less anticipated, having tightened restrictions on Huawei over 2020/21.

The government has approved Vodafone's selection of Huawei equipment, but it is conditional, with limits on Huawei's ability to remotely manage the network and with a "high security threshold," Reuters reports.

As a rule, those countries backing Huawei 5G don't have close security links to the US but have strong economic ties to China and, related to that, are nervous about enraging Beijing. Many are unable or unwilling to pay the premium for non-Chinese vendors.

On the other side, most of those who have decided against Huawei are China's neighbors, like Japan, India and Vietnam, for whom 5G is just one part of a much broader set of problems they have with their nearby giant.

Mending fences

The idea that Huawei's problems stem from other governments' political difficulties with Beijing is a good starting point for the company if it wants to repair its relations with the US.

Oddly enough, that's what it is trying to do. Most of us might have thought the US had made its position on Huawei crystal clear, but the vendor is making a fresh pitch.

We hope that "when the time is right, they will talk to us," a Huawei board member, Vincent Peng, said in an op-ed last week marking the second anniversary of Huawei's US blacklisting.

Peng does acknowledge that the US believes "Huawei could be forced to launch cyberattacks on American telecommunications networks" and help Beijing carry out espionage activity.

But he leaves that thought hanging and goes on to repeat earlier promises about Huawei's undergoing stringent security controls and perhaps even opening a US factory.

He also reissues an old favorite, Huawei's offer to license its 5G tech to a US firm. This is a crowd-pleasing piece of Chinese political theater premised on the view that the US is trying to "stop Huawei" because it can no longer compete.

That's not what this is about. The US has the same problem with Huawei as China's neighbors – the lack of trust in what the China government is up to, and Huawei's relationship with it.

This has been exacerbated by the National Intelligence Law, which requires all Chinese nationals to cooperate with the government in intelligence gathering. Australian cybersecurity experts specifically cite that as the reason for their ban in 2018.

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Vincent Peng doesn't touch on this at all. In fact, in all the thousands of words unleashed by Huawei executives and lobbyists over the US sanctions, none ever discussed this law and how it might impact on its operations.

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has actually said that Huawei would never break a law, but that is hardly reassuring. Which law is he talking about?

If Huawei wants to relitigate its US bans the most powerful thing it can do is issue a credible legal opinion on the intelligence law. Better still, it can find a senior government official who can stand in front of an audience and declare that this law will never apply to Chinese nationals or companies abroad.

Until that happens, foreign governments will draw their own conclusions.