BRAMPTON, Ont. – The United States has again warned Canada against allowing wireless network carriers here to buy 5G equipment from Chinese manufacturers.
The message was delivered Tuesday by Greg Stanford, who heads the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, at a conference here on cybersecurity and cross-border trade issues co-sponsored by Washington.
“There is no viable mitigation strategy to manage the risk that Chinese participation will entail,” he told the largely business audience. “Consequently we urge all countries, including Canada, its telecom operators and network users to make the right choice now.”
Stanford didn’t say in his speech what would happen if Canada goes against U.S. wishes. Asked in an interview how the U.S. would react he said Washington would have to “re-visit” the issue with Canada.
Then he noted the U.S. shares a lot of information now with Canada as a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing co-operative.
“We think it’s in our shared interest to align on 5G,” he added.
According to the Globe and Mail, in May the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for cyber policy, warned that Washington might rethink intelligence sharing with any country that allowed “unsecure and untrusted vendors” into its 5G networks.
Other members of the Five Eyes group are the U.K, Australia and New Zealand. Australia and the U.S. have banned Huawei gear from their carriers. The U.K. is still pondering. Officials in the U.K. and Germany have suggested any potential security issues by a foreign equipment maker could be mitigated, but the U.S. is having none of it.
Canada is also thinking about its position, which is complicated by the detention of two Canadians by China after Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was detained for an extradition hearing on allegations she broke U.S. law by violating trade sanctions against Iran.
Canada may not make a 5G decision as long as the Canadians are being held. The Chinese have demanded the release of Meng and the quashing of the U.S. arrest warrant on which the extradition request was made.
Asked if the U.S. understand Canada might not make a decision on 5G suppliers until the detention of the Canadians in China is resolved, Stanford said, “We realize that, and we find it deplorable. We believe China should be guided by the rule of law and not resort of arbitrary detention of Canadians to try to settle other grievances. I think Canada honoured its longstanding [extradition] treaty with the U.S. and it was done with the appropriate intent and not at all clouded by ongoing concurrent trade negotiations.”
Also at the conference an American expert said countries shouldn’t see China as a network threat but as a geopolitical rival trying to build a global network opposed to Western values.
“Cybersecurity cannot be an afterthought when it comes to artificial intelligence, blockchain and 5G, as these technologies will continue to fundamentally transform our world,” Stanford said in his keynote. “[5G] will touch every aspect of our lives including critical infrastructure. We need to be able to trust 5G equipment and software companies will not threaten national security, privacy and intellectual property.
“We are particularly concerned with any company that operates in the 5G space that is subject to extrajudicial control by a foreign power and could be compelled to undermine network security for nefarious reasons,” he added, alluding to China.
Some have suggested mitigations such as encrypting government data or forbidding carriers from allowing Chinese network equipment in the core of new networks to the edge. However, in an interview Stanford said the U.S. position is firm.
“I know there are those out there who believe you can mitigate not only within the core and the edge [of the network] … I have been briefed by a number of experts in the U.S. and it’s our considered opinion that there absolutely is no way to fully mitigate and ensure the integrity of the system.”
Later at a panel discussion the head of the University of Cincinnati’s political science department and resident scholar at the U.S. National Security Agency said countries shouldn’t see Chinese network equipment makers as only a backdoor security threat.
Instead, Richard Harknett said the threat should be seen in a wider context.
“The bigger problem is we’re dealing with geo-political economic competition,” he said.
He then posed the question, what if China is trying to build “An alternative digital space, that preferences and biases towards information control?”
In an interview Harknett argued that China is giving away network technology from its manufacturers to some countries that is causing trouble for Swedish network equipment maker Ericsson. But the issue here is not about competition, he explained.
“This is about creating a fundamentally different system which will have its pipes running through Beijing. That would be okay if we had the same value system and the same view of where the individual in society stands. But they’re setting up a system that’s much closer to their political, cultural and ideological orientation.
“So if we understand that we’re actually in an unsettled space of who will control the backbone on cyberspace over the next 10 to 15 years, that fundamentally changes the way we should look at this [allowing Chinese 5G equipment into networks] from a public policy standpoint.”
The one-day conference was co-sponsored by Ryerson University’s Cybersecure Catalyst security education and research centre, which is located in Brampton, just west of Toronto. The centre will officially open its headquarters early next year.