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The US is likely to make some concessions in regard to its sanctions against Chinese networking firm Huawei in the next few weeks, which could include rescinding its ban on licensing American exports to the controversial firm, according to former spy chief John Sawers.
Sawers, who led MI6 from 2009 to 2014, and cites Daniel Craig as “by far the best” Bond, said that ahead of an anticipated meeting between US president Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping at the November 2019 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Chile, a “mini deal” between the US and China was “quite possible”.
“What we’re seeing is a pattern of decision-making by president Trump whereby he takes a very tough approach and then pulls back,” said Sawers. “We saw it last year on ZTE, we’re seeing it now on Huawei.
“I think, in part, it’s because he doesn’t always understand the full implications or consequences of the decisions he is taking,” he added. “That is also a failure of the US inter-agency system.”
Sawers noted that the Chinese are taking the preservation of Huawei very seriously and that this would almost certainly make it an important factor in wider trade negotiations between the two feuding countries.
Sawers went on to state that the measures the UK has in place to mitigate any threat – real or imagined – presented to its national security through exposure to Huawei are, in general, working well.
John Sawers, former MI6 chief
He added that the febrile geo-political environment made it incumbent on European countries to enhance and protect their own cyber capabilities, given that the US under Trump is proving a less reliable international partner.
Sawers described the current controversy over Huawei as a microcosm of how the West’s relationship with China will play out during the 2020s.
“We’re going to find more and more crucial sectors of technology where China has a lead, and we’re going to have to think about how we manage in a world where it’s not just consumer products made in China, but also the systems that are central to protecting our national way of life,” he said.
He also urged greater understanding between the West and China and Russia over cyber security. “Every country feels its vulnerability through the cyber world, but in China and Russia they feel it even more,” he said.
“The Chinese and the Russians are going to look to do two strategic things over the next decade. One is to make themselves less dependent on the dollar, the second is to Balkanise the internet,” he said.
Sawers predicted that recent attempts by the Russians to cut the country off from the global internet and run, effectively, a Russian intranet, although clearly a game to gather intelligence on how to preserve its systems in case of a hypothetical future kinetic war, presaged a situation where Russia might well go it alone. If this does happen, he added, China will likely not be far behind.
“The great power military competition we are seeing in the physical world is likely to extend into the virtual world. That is not a good thing, because once you break up the internet you lose one of its greatest qualities, but I fear that’s the direction we are going in,” he said.
Sawers was speaking on the opening day of Digital Transformation Expo, which is taking place this week at London’s ExCeL conference centre.
Recent developments in the Huawei affair
- Huawei has hit back at the US government’s latest moves to restrict its activities, saying its bans violate free market principles.
- American network operators have been given an additional 90-day grace period to wean themselves off Huawei’s hardware.
- Huawei is positioning its microkernel-based, distributed HarmonyOS mobile operating system as a true competitor to both Android and iOS.
- Huawei has found itself caught in the crossfire of the US president’s trade war with China, but chairman Liang Hua says the firm is rising to the challenge and has been “galvanised” by it.
- Culture secretary says he cannot yet make specific decisions about Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s telecoms and mobile networks due to a lack of clarity from the US, effectively green-lighting its use.
- Science and Technology Committee tells Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that there are no technical grounds for it to exclude Huawei.
- President Donald Trump promises to loosen trade restrictions on Huawei, while respecting national security concerns, but details of the changes are still unclear.
- Huawei chief security officer John Suffolk faces tough questions from Parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee over the firm’s links to the Chinese government.
- The Huawei ban will spur a faster retreat from US suppliers, as the Chinese tech company invests more in its manufacturing plants and adds non-US partners, say analysts.
- Chip design firm ARM is in communication with Huawei-owned semiconductor firm HiSilicon following US move to halt exports of US technology to Chinese tech giant.