The Canadian government has been struggling with this question ever since Beijing passed a new intelligence law in June 2017. Article 7 of the legislation dictates that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work according to law.”
It appears, then, that Beijing could demand that Huawei spy on Canadians through their own networks.
That’s certainly what the Americans think. (They first banned Huawei years ago and have increased their pressure on the company over the last 12 months.)
Apparently, so do senior Canadian military officials. Australia has already banned the company, as have Japan and, most recently, the United Kingdom.
The British decision was taken largely in response to new sanctions announced by Washington that restrict organizations from exporting key technologies to Huawei, thereby limiting the company’s capacity to do business.
Washington has also made it clear that should Huawei become involved in Canada’s emerging 5G network, our access to intelligence within the Five Eyes alliance would no longer be guaranteed.
(The Five Eyes include the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The first three countries have banned Huawei; New Zealand has thus far turned down every application from Huawei for involvement in its network.)
China’s disappointing international behaviour in recent years has convinced me (and, according to Angus Reid, at least 78% of Canadians) that it is not in Canada’s interests to allow Chinese technology anywhere near our critical infrastructure.
And yet, I hope that our allies do not ultimately compel us to officially ban the firm from involvement here.
It seems to me that banning Huawei risks bringing a degree of credibility to Beijing that Washington does not intend.
It could suggest to some states in the wider international community that if Western firms cannot compete on a level playing field, we resort to brute force to get what we want.
Such an aggressive posture creates a narrative of Beijing as victim, which it can use in efforts to promote Huawei as a credible partner elsewhere.
Ideally, Canadian telecommunications firms would not need to be directed to stay away from an enterprise that threatens our national security.
It would nonetheless be prudent for Ottawa to create criteria for investment here that make it all but impossible for Huawei to put forward a competitive bid on any opportunities to work on 5G networks.
We should aim to create incentives for the leadership at Huawei to be resentful of their own political masters. Better that they blame Beijing, and not Washington, for their lack of access to Western markets.
I therefore hope that Washington continues to tolerate the Trudeau government’s endless delay in coming to a final decision on a Huawei ban. I’d much prefer to see the company fail to secure contracts in Canada on any merit other than an American edict.
On Canada and China, I enjoy the work of Wendy Dobson and Paul Evans. Both were also delightful to deal with when I edited International Journal.
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