France is seeking to assure China that it isn’t banning Chinese telecom equipment supplier Huawei from participating in its fifth-generation mobile roll-out, even after announcing new security regulations that may effectively do just that.
The head of the country’s cybersecurity agency said this month it will grant time-limited waivers on 5G for wireless operators that use Huawei products, a decision that will likely begin a “phasing out” of the company’s products. The pressure to reverse course comes from the US, which has warned that Huawei’s systems could be infiltrated by hackers or hostile states. The UK caved and now intends to stop using Huawei for 5G as soon as this year.
The fact that Americans are publicly praising France for its latest action has observers thinking that a change in policy is afoot. A spokesman for the finance ministry said “any talk of a ban is rumour and speculation”. While France has avoided an outright ban like the UK, it’s effectively forcing its companies to stop using Huawei equipment. The time-limited authorisations, between three and eight years, create uncertainty around their renewal, especially given the growing mistrust around Huawei in the West.
The finance ministry said the duration of the security authorisations doesn’t depend on who’s the supplier, but on the geographical area and other security-related factors. Decisions to grant the waivers are made on a case-by-case basis and don’t discriminate against any company, the spokesman said.
Last week, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the French government was on “the right path” with its policy. France has “recognised Huawei is a threat”, Mr O’Brien told reporters during a trip in Paris, adding that the country had been among the “early movers” with its policy regarding Huawei and 5G.
France has been walking a fine line on what has become a highly politicised issue. Last year, President Emmanuel Macron said “our perspective is not to block Huawei or any company”. Rather, France has been seeking to strike a middle ground that would allow Huawei to remain an important supplier while keeping it out of the more integral parts of its wireless infrastructure. China is watching the recent developments closely.
China “hopes France will honour its commitments, will rise above disturbances, respect market rules and security principles,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Thursday in Beijing.