By Jack Stubbs
LONDON (Reuters) – Huawei will present a plan to address British security concerns about its equipment by the end of the first half of this year, a senior company executive said on Thursday, following criticism the Chinese firm has not moved fast enough to fix the issues.
British intelligence officials said on Wednesday they had not yet seen a “credible” plan by Huawei to resolve issues raised in a critical government report last year, which found that technical and supply-chain problems with the company’s equipment had exposed national telecom networks to new security risks.
Huawei previously said the problems will take 3-5 years to resolve and Ryan Ding, head of Huawei’s carrier business group, told reporters on Thursday a “global and comprehensive” plan was expected to be approved internally by the end of March.
“In Q2 we will talk to all our stakeholders, including UK stakeholders, about such a plan and hopefully by the end of the first half of this year we will complete the high level design of such (a) plan,” he said, speaking through a translator.
Britain has emerged as a key battleground for Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, in its efforts to resist U.S. calls for allies to ditch its equipment over fears that it could be used by Beijing for spying.
No evidence for such claims has been produced publicly and Huawei has repeatedly denied them, but the espionage allegations have led several Western countries to restrict the company’s access to their markets.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the United States, which is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group alongside Britain, would not be able to share information with countries that decide to use Huawei equipment due to the security implications.
Ding said Huawei was committed to achieving “trustworthiness” in eight key areas, including software and hardware engineering, management of third-party components and company culture. Huawei will also spend more than the $2 billion originally earmarked globally for the effort, he said.
Huawei’s spending pledge, announced in December, followed a series of strained meetings with officials at Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), who raised the security issues in the government report last July.
A new British report is expected in coming weeks. People with knowledge of the matter said it will likely further criticize Huawei’s perceived slow response to the British concerns.
Ding said he believed assurances by the NCSC – part of Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency – that its findings were not politically-influenced.
Asked whether he was worried that political pressure would prevent Huawei from being used in Britain’s next-generation 5G networks, Ding said it was for operators to decide which equipment vendors they used but excluding Huawei would be like barring top-flight teams from English soccer.
“I believe that a 5G market without Huawei is just like the English Premier League without Manchester United,” he said.
(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)