Huawei and ZTE have now been banned by the Australian government from being involved in the development of 5G networks. However it is important to state that this is a political issue not a technical one.
There is no evidence whatsoever that some clever bits of technology have been added to networks designed and developed by the Chinese that would allow the Chinese government, or anybody else for that matter, to interfere with networks they have built, or are currently building. As a matter of fact, the communications networks that are in place at the moment, manufactured by Americans, Europeans, Chinese or Russians, can be used by governments around the world for cyberwarfare, cyberespionage or cybercrime if they want to do so.
The major difference between western democracies and China is that the Chinese government has a national policy that applies to all Chinese persons and companies, wherever they are – their first loyalty must be to China, and they must act and behave in the interest of China. We see this, for example, in the case of Chinese students at overseas universities. There is plenty of evidence to indicate that propaganda is used to ensure that these Chinese nationals put Chinese policies and values first. There are even Chinese offices in other countries that are preparing and providing this propaganda. If it comes to the crunch in relation to Huawei and ZTE, they could be required by the Chinese government to act in its interest first of all.
Comparing this with the USA for example, and looking at the PRISM project from the National Security Agency (NSA) in the USA in 2013, it can clearly be seen that governments can infiltrate any network in the world. In that case the American government was able to infiltrate these networks for their own political use. It didn’t matter whether these networks were built with American, European or Chinese hardware and software. In general, in communication technologies it has become a two-pronged pursuit – developing better security systems on the one hand and finding new technologies to hack into them on the other.
The main difference so far has been that the democratic processes and institutions in America (and for that matter in other Western democratic countries) are able to stop such illegal practices, and legislation and regulations are in place to protect democratic rights. In China such nuts and bolts are not in place and if the government wants to (mis)use communication networks there are few or no institutions stopping them. Furthermore, they can ‘force’ their nationals to adhere to their commands, and because of the global nature of these networks this is a potential threat to the security of other countries.
While governments can infiltrate any network, the fact that networks developed by Chinese companies could be more easily brought under the political control of the Chinese government is a threat that several countries have indicated is simply too big to ignore, and they have therefore banned the involvement of Chinese companies in what they see as critical infrastructure in their countries.
It is sad to see this happening. I would have preferred a global attempt to remove such a political threat, so that we can use the best and most competitive technologies available anywhere in the world. Instead our industry is now unfortunately also part of the realpolitik that we, as members of a global community, are facing.
In the end it is the end-users of these technologies that will pay the price for all of this. We will no longer be able to use market forces to get the best products and services, as this will now be overridden by politics. In the case of networks this could increase prices by 30% or more and it will be the consumers that will have to pay for it.