Canada has banned the use of Huawei and fellow Chinese tech giant ZTE’s equipment in its 5G networks, its government has announced. In a statement, it cited national security concerns for the move, saying that the suppliers could be forced to comply with “extrajudicial directions from foreign governments” in ways that could “conflict with Canadian laws or would be detrimental to Canadian interests.”
Telcos will be prevented from procuring new 4G or 5G equipment from the companies by September this year, and must remove all ZTE- and Huawei-branded 5G equipment from their networks by June 28th, 2024. Equipment must also be removed from 4G networks by the end of 2027. “The Government is committed to maximizing the social and economic benefits of 5G and access to telecommunications services writ large, but not at the expense of security,” the Canadian government wrote in its statement.
At the heart of security concerns is China’s National Intelligence Law
The move makes Canada the latest member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to have placed restrictions on the use of Huawei and ZTE equipment in their communication networks. US telcos are spending billions removing and replacing the equipment in their networks, while the UK banned the use of Huawei’s equipment in 2020, and ordered its removal by 2027. Australia and New Zealand have also restricted the use of their equipment on national security grounds.
At the core of these concerns is China’s National Intelligence Law, which critics claim can be used to make Chinese organizations and citizens cooperate with state intelligence work, CBC News reports. The fear is this could be used to force Chinese tech companies like Huawei and ZTE to hand over sensitive information from foreign networks to the Chinese government.
Huawei disputes the claim and says its based on a “misreading” of China’s law. “China will comprehensively and seriously evaluate this incident and take all necessary measures to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies,” China’s Canadian embassy said in a statement in response to Canada’s ban. In a statement emailed to The Verge, Alykhan Avelshi, a vice president at Huawei Canada called the policy “an unfortunate political decision that has nothing to do with cyber security or any of the technologies in question.”
Canada has taken around three years to come to its decision about the use of Huawei and ZTE equipment in its telecoms networks, a period which Bloomberg notes has coincided with worsening relations between it and China. In December 2018, Canada arrested Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on suspicion of violating US sanctions. Days later, China imprisoned two Canadian nationals: former diplomat Michael Spavor and entrepreneur Michael Kovrig. After the US came to a deferred-prosecution deal with Meng that allowed her to return to China last year, the Canadians were released.
Opposition politicians criticized the Canadian government’s delay. “In the years of delay, Canadian telecommunications companies purchased hundreds of millions of dollars of Huawei equipment which will now need to be removed from their networks at enormous expense,” Conservative MP Raquel Dancho said in a statement reported by the Toronto Sun. But Bloomberg reports that the likes of BCE and Telus have already been winding down their use of Huawei’s equipment over fears of an eventual ban.
Update May 20th, 6:04PM ET: Added statement from Huawei.