Beijing attacked Canada for banning telecom giants Huawei and ZTE from Canadian 5G networks on Friday, citing Ottawa’s concerns about security risks as “unfounded” and warning of retaliation.
Canada’s long-awaited move on Thursday follows the United States and other key allies. It comes on the heels of a diplomatic row between Ottawa and Beijing over the detention of a senior Huawei executive on a US warrant, which has now been resolved.
The United States has warned of the security implications of granting Chinese tech companies access to telecommunications infrastructure that could be used for state espionage.
Both Huawei and Beijing have denied the allegations.
“China strongly opposes this and will conduct a comprehensive and serious assessment,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in response to the 5G block.
“The Canadian side has banned these Chinese companies from the Canadian market under the pretense of unfounded security risks and without solid evidence.”
He added that Beijing would take “all necessary measures” to protect Chinese companies.
“This move goes against the principles of the market economy and free trade rules,” he said, accusing the Canadian government of “seriously harming the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies”.
Canada had been reviewing 5G technology and network access for several years, repeatedly delaying a decision first expected in 2019.
The telecoms issue has remained silent after China jailed two Canadians — diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — in what observers say was retaliation for the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wangzhou in Vancouver in December 2018 at the request of the United States.
All three were released in September 2021 after Meng struck a deal with US prosecutors over the fraud charges, ending her extradition battle.
But Canada’s Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne made the 5G announcement on Thursday, citing its “intention to ban the inclusion of Huawei and ZTE products and services in Canada’s telecommunications systems”.
Champagne said Canadian telecommunications companies “will not be allowed to include in their network products or services that endanger our national security”“.
“Providers who have already installed this equipment will have to discontinue its use and remove it,” he said.
Huawei already supplies 4G equipment to some Canadian telecom companies.
Most, if not all, had postponed using Huawei in their fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks that deliver faster online connections with greater data capacity. Others have looked to other suppliers as Ottawa closed in and snapped.
On Thursday, Canadian Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino warned of “many hostile actors ready to exploit vulnerabilities” in telecom networks.
The United States, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, Japan, and Sweden have already blocked or restricted the use of Huawei technology in their 5G networks.
The US government considers Huawei a potential security threat due to the background of its founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, a former Chinese military engineer who is Meng’s father.
Concerns escalated as Huawei emerged as the global leader in telecom network equipment and one of the top smartphone manufacturers.
Beijing also passed a law in 2017 requiring Chinese companies to assist the government in national security matters.
The decision could be “a major cost to Canada,” Kendra Schaefer, a technology policy researcher at consultancy Trivium China, told AFP.
“Not only have local telecom providers already invested… in Huawei equipment, but they are going back and having to remove everything they already have installed,” she added.