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Spy Agency vs. Spy Agency: How the Huawei Dilemma Led to a Rift in Canadian Intelligence Over 5G

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) insists on banning Huawei technology, while the Communications Security Centre (CSE), Canada’s electronic surveillance agency, believes that rigorous testing and monitoring of 5G equipment manufactured by Huawei will eliminate security threats.

Australia and the United States are the only countries from the Five Eyes (FVEY) intelligence alliance that have decided on an outright Huawei ban. The remaining members – Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, have yet to decide. However, the Americans are putting pressure on them. Washington has repeatedly stated that if countries permit Huawei’s 5G equipment or any other Chinese manufacturer in their telecommunications infrastructure, the United States will stop sharing intelligence with the country, no matter how close and strategic an ally it is.

On the other hand, Huawei equipment is now present in previous generation telecommunications networks in almost all countries, including the United States. Therefore, if at the state level a decision is made to drop Huawei, then all telecom operators must completely rebuild their infrastructure. In fact, even small US telecom operators that provide services in remote rural areas are unhappy. They relied on Huawei equipment because of its cost-effectiveness. And now, to replace that equipment, the Rural Wireless Association of the US Rural Wireless Carriers, said the sector would need between $800 million to $1 billion in two years.

The same applies to mobile operators in other countries. The United States, which urges them to bar Huawei, isn’t offering to share the costs of this decision. Meanwhile, the two largest mobile operators in Canada, Bell and Telus, for example, do not want to completely abandon Huawei; otherwise, they will need to spend millions of dollars to satisfy US demands. Actually, the Canadian Communications Security Centre (CSE) supports them in this decision and has explained that to ensure information security, merely a thorough check of Chinese equipment is enough. A ban targeting the country of origin will be expensive and time-consuming for the country.

There’s desynchronisation in the Five Eyes alliance. The US is guided by geopolitical and ideological motives, but at the same time, it wants to pass the costs of its decision on to the rest of the members, according to Zheng An’guang, an expert at the Institute of International Relations of Nanjing University.

“An important basis of American hegemony is the US-built system of alliances, whose members are in different situations. The US is always the leader of these alliances, a hegemonic country, and other countries are simply US partners. Therefore, on many issues, these countries are forced to take into account the US stance, guided by American interests. If we assume that all of them, following US orders, will give up Huawei equipment, they will have to bear the costs associated with this. Therefore, from an economic point of view, I think they will have a lot of contradictions. However, this is unlikely to lead to a complete split.”
The US allies now face a difficult choice: continue to follow their leader or be pragmatically guided by personal interests. Indeed, in addition to material costs, the banning of Huawei would mean that these countries could seriously fall behind in the development of fifth generation networks. China is the world leader in 5G technology; it owns more than a third of patents in this field. The United States, meanwhile, hasn’t even decided on the future frequency spectrum for 5G, so they cannot offer ready-made alternative solutions to their allies.

As a result, the Five Eyes alliance partners and traditional US allies from Western Europe have put off making unpleasant decisions until later. The UK has repeatedly postponed its decision on Huawei. But it should be made in December. Germany, in its proposed security requirements for fifth generation networks, did not include the clause that communication systems should be provided only by reliable suppliers. This can be interpreted as a refusal to block Huawei’s access to the market outright. Italy has also voiced its disagreement with the US, noting that in the field of telecommunications it would pursue its national interests exclusively .

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