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U.K. To Develop 5G Network With Help From Huawei


The U.K. says it will develop its 5G network with the help of the Chinese telecom company Huawei. The Trump administration has urged Britain to ban the company. It calls Huawei a security risk. NPR's Frank Langfitt is covering all of this from London. Hey, Frank.


KING: All right. So this is news that's just come out this morning. What do we understand about what Huawei is going to do for the U.K.?

LANGFITT: Well, now, Huawei would love to have a big role here, but Britain says the company's actually going to play a much more restrictive role. It won't be allowed to supply equipment to sensitive parts or what they call core parts of the network or operate near any military bases or nuclear sites, more on the periphery, maybe supplying antennas, mass, things like that. And the idea is to prevent any attempt by the Chinese government to use Huawei to spy on British citizens or monitor any government communication here.

KING: OK. This is really interesting. This is essentially the U.K. saying to the United States, OK, we heard you. We take your point about spying, about security. But we're not going to go along with you, not fully. How is the United States responding to that?

LANGFITT: Well, the United States has been talking about this for a long time and made it very clear they didn't want this to happen. And so a senior administration official told NPR today that the U.S. is disappointed. One of the quotes is, "there is no safe option for untrusted vendors to control any part of a 5G network," but adding that they were looking forward to talking with the U.K. about how to continue to work in this area.

What's going to be interesting, Noel, is that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is actually going to be here tomorrow evening. So this is certain to be a big conversation - topic of conversation with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. And one of the questions also will be is, how does the U.S. move forward? Will it seek to punish the United Kingdom...

KING: Yeah.

LANGFITT: ...Which is a very close ally? There has been talk of limiting cooperation with a group called the Five Eyes. This is an intelligence-sharing network of English-speaking countries, which includes Canada, New Zealand, the United States, the U.K., as well as Australia. That would be pretty drastic and probably self-defeating. But I think we want to watch this to see how - the ball is now in the United States' court - and to see how President Trump reacts.

KING: This would seem to be a big win for Huawei. Even if it's a...

LANGFITT: Oh, yeah.

KING: ...Limited win, it's a big one. Has the company said anything this morning?

LANGFITT: Yeah. I think that they were very careful in the way they phrased things. They didn't want to gloat or anything like that. But they said they were reassured by the U.K.'s government confirmation that they could continue to work on 5G rollout. The fact of the matter is Huawei's been in this country for a long time. It's been working with British Telecom and elsewhere.

And in order - if the United Kingdom had decided, hey, to follow the United States' request, which is to ban Huawei, it would have meant tearing a lot of stuff out. And it would have cost the U.K. a lot of money. Now, you know, right now, the United Kingdom is not a booming economy. They're about to leave the European Union. And so I think Boris Johnson has to figure out, how do I balance out this relationship with the United States with the own economic concerns and costs to customers here in the U.K.?

KING: Well, let me actually ask you about that bigger picture.


KING: We have the United States and China struggling for global influence. We have, as you just said, the U.K. leaving the EU at the end of this week. How does this one seemingly little story play into everything that's going on in that world?

LANGFITT: Yeah. And I would say, it's not a little story at all. I think it's a very big story in the geopolitical contest between China and the United States. And right now, this is quite good for China. It has for many years used its economic power - growing economic power - as leverage to gain more political power in the East and the developing world as well as the West. And this is a pretty good example of that working out. Boris Johnson finds himself in a tight position. He needs big, powerful friends as the U.K. prepares to leave the EU.

KING: And like you said, the ball is now in the U.S.' court. NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thanks so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.