Alex Younger, head of the UK’s foreign intelligence agency MI6, said Theresa May’s government must decide if Chinese-owned Huawei Technologies should be barred from supplying 5G mobile networks in Britain.
The UK is coming under increasing pressure to restrict Huawei after New Zealand, Australia and the US banned the company.
While the UK has already barred another telecoms provider, ZTE Corp, Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright has yet to rule on Huawei.
“We’ve got some decisions to take here,” Younger said in a question-and-answer session with students and media at St Andrews University, Scotland, on Monday.
“We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken quite a definite position. It’s not wholly straightforward.’’
A ban would come as a blow to Britain’s biggest telecom companies including BT Group, which have given Huawei an important role in their planned 5G networks.
Companies have been asked to examine resilience in their supply chains and the government is to decide on the next steps following the end of a review period in March 2019.
“With 4G there are specific modes of technology and we developed a very good understanding with Huawei of where we were able to monitor and look at that aspect of their offer,” Younger said, referring to a Huawei oversight board staffed by former intelligence officers.
“That is impossible with 5G where the technology is at the edge of the network and spread out very unevenly.”
“This is a non-trivial issue,” he added. “It’s one that needs to be worked on through dialogue.”
He pointed to China as an emerging threat to national security overall.
“Power, money, and politics is going east,” he said.