London—Britain on Tuesday bowed to growing US pressure and ordered the phased removal of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G network despite warnings of retaliation from Beijing.
The policy reversal hands a long-sought victory to US President Donald Trump’s administration in its geopolitical tug-of-war with China.
The White House said the decision “reflects a growing international consensus that Huawei and other untrusted vendors pose a threat to national security, as they remain beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.”
But the move threatens to further damage Britain’s ties with the Asian power and carry a big cost for UK mobile providers that have relied on Huawei equipment for nearly 20 years.
Huawei called it “politicized” and would likely put Britain “in the digital slow lane.”
China’s ambassador in London, Liu Xiaoming, called it a “disappointing and wrong decision.”
“It has become questionable whether the UK can provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for companies from other countries,” he wrote on Twitter.
The politically-fraught change in Britain’s digital future was made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a meeting with his cabinet and National Security Council.
It requires companies to stop buying new 5G equipment from Huawei starting next year and strip out existing gear by the end of 2027.
“This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the UK telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy,” digital minister Oliver Dowden told parliament.
Johnson infuriated Trump and upset some members of his own Conservative party by allowing the Chinese leader in global 5G technology to help roll out Britain’s speedy new data network in January.
The UK was then completing its tortuous departure from the European Union and looking to establish strong ties with powerful Asian economies that could fulfill Johnson’s vision of a “Global Britain.”
But the Trump administration told the UK government that its choice imperiled intelligence sharing because British signals could be intercepted or manipulated by China.
Washington believes the private company can also shut down rival countries’ 5G networks under Beijing’s orders in times of war.
Huawei has always denied this and pointed to two decades of cooperation with British security agencies that checked on the safety of its existing 3G and 4G networks.
The British review was triggered by Washington sanctions in May that blocked Huawei’s access to US chips at the heart of 5G networks.
The sanctions did not impact older 3G and 4G providers and Britain left its guidance for those networks unchanged.