Failing to ban Huawei from 5G networks could make both Canada’s relations with the United States and its own economic future “difficult,” says one expert.
James Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ technology policy program, told the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson in an interview that he thinks Canada faces political and economic risks whether it chooses to ban Huawei or allow the Chinese firm into its networks.
And while some risks can be mitigated, he said the only way to eliminate the national security threat of the firm is to just say no.
“You’re going to have to think hard about why you wouldn’t ban Huawei,” he said.
“Why you would take the risk of letting them into your networks? It’s something that could make not only the relationship difficult with the U.S. but more importantly Canada’s economic future difficult when it comes to China.”
WATCH BELOW: Facebook says Huawei can no longer pre-install its apps
American defence and intelligence officials have warned for years — long before the Trump presidency — that Huawei poses an unacceptable threat.
Concerns centre around the potential for the Chinese technology firm to be used by the state to steal industrial and economic secrets.
In fact, the former security adviser to Nortel alleged in 2012 that Huawei had hacked the firm for more than a decade and engaged in corporate espionage to undermine Nortel on the global economic stage prior to its collapse.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted Huawei and its CFO, Meng Wanzhou, on 23 criminal charges alleging industrial espionage and skirting U.S. sanctions on Iran. Meng had been detained the month previously by Canadian authorities at the behest of the U.S.
WATCH BELOW: Matt Whitaker announces criminal charges against Huawei officials
Days after her detention, Chinese officials detained two Canadians on what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes as “arbitrary” claims of endangering national security, and have since severely limited their access to consular assistance while keeping them in what are reportedly very rough conditions.
Meng, in contrast, is out on bail and living in her Vancouver home.
Huawei denies any allegations of spying.
Australia and New Zealand have both banned the firm, and the U.S. has also implemented several escalating bans over the past several years.
But Canada and the U.K. have so far declined to do so, with media reports indicating the U.K. is eyeing only a partial ban.
That would see Huawei equipment limited to use on non-critical aspects of its domestic infrastructure.
Lewis said there are understandable concerns among the countries now being pressed by the U.S. to ban Huawei from its networks, focusing on the fear that China will retaliate if they implement such bans, but said the question is about what longer-term harm could be done by not banning the firm.
“The Chinese will punish you, but you have to ask yourself: in the long run, do you want a partner who’s a bully?” he said.
“I would not.”