China trusts Europe’s smart choice on Huawei
Europe must choose wisely on Huawei for future
Published: Feb 24, 2019 05:08 PM

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre recently concluded that any risk posed by using Huawei 5G networks can be managed, according to unnamed sources cited by the Financial Times. Some Western media have said that this shows the UK and other European countries haven't followed the US on the so-called outright ban on Huawei's 5G equipment. Instead, they are cautiously taking a relatively balanced view based on their own interests. The UK is part of the intelligence-sharing group known as Five Eyes, and its approach on the issue is likely to set an example for other European countries to address security concerns involving Huawei and to purchase Huawei's 5G equipment.

Why are Western countries so wary of a Chinese private company? One thing to consider is that 5G is of too much importance. As the world is entering the 5G era, Huawei is a global leader in 5G. If we can say that 4G has changed people's lifestyles, then 5G will likely be able to weigh heavily on the state of a country and society.

Why are European countries cautious toward the ban on Huawei's 5G equipment? Because Huawei has been working with them for some time. For example, Britain's BT Group officially announced Huawei as a partner in 2005; Norway's Telenor became Huawei's business partner in 2009; and Huawei has a development history of more than 10 years in France. Statistics show that the market share of Huawei's 4G equipment in the European market has hit 40 percent. The European market has become a focus of Huawei's business development, with many of its innovative businesses first landing in Europe. Meanwhile, Huawei's global competence center, financial center and risk control center are all located in Europe.

It is because of the two-way cooperation and investment that Europe has not only become an important overseas market for Huawei, but has also benefited much in the process of introducing Huawei's technology, a key factor behind European countries' current reluctance to exclude Huawei equipment.

In the 2G era, European countries developed the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) standard, the US introduced the CDMA standard, and Japan set the Personal Handy-phone System (PHS) standard. At that time, China was incapable of participating in the development of standards. 

When it comes to the 5G era, the polar code technology platform promoted by Huawei and other Chinese companies was selected by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) as the official coding scheme for the 5G control channel, marking the first time that Chinese companies have been able to deliver their technology standards as part of the global telecommunication standards agreement. By taking a lead in 5G technology, Huawei has become the "inevitable" choice for the world, including European countries.

The fact that Asia, especially China, has become the main manufacturing base for some ICT equipment has raised concern in some Western countries. But the problem is that Chinese hardware and US software are both essential for any company to participate in global competition. It is understandable for other countries, including those in Europe, to discuss security certification measures to alleviate their concerns, but it is wrong to simply raise the barrier. 

The question for Europe now is how it could safeguard the future of "digital Europe," using both Chinese hardware and US software. The protection and free flow of data are already squeezing the digitalization policy space in Europe, not to mention the need for policy coordination among various countries.

It is because of this awkward situation that Austria and other countries have called for a European consensus on whether Huawei should be allowed to participate in the construction of 5G networks in Europe so as to ensure fair competition. At present, the EU can use several existing policy tools to protect key digital infrastructure, such as the EU's Cybersecurity Act, the Directive on security of network and information systems (NIS), the foreign investment review regulations, the procurement rules, and the European Electronic Communications Code. Moreover, the EU is also working on a network sanctioning mechanism to better cope with cyber attacks.

Lacking its own competitive Internet search engine or technological competitiveness in other Internet frontiers, and subject to the US-led NATO in common security and defense policy, Europe is now reflecting on those "painful" lessons. That's why German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly called for taking Europe's destiny into its own hands. Now in the 5G field, Europe finally sees the opportunity to work with China to formulate the rules, and European countries are striving to make their own decisions by resisting a ban on Huawei's 5G equipment. Those who really care about European development and destiny must have a clear idea about what to do next.

The author is Jean Monnet Chair Professor at Renmin University of China.