A growing number of countries are recognising the threat to data privacy from using mobile technology from the Chinese giant Huawei, and are likely to shun the company when building out their 5G networks, the top US security advisor said Wednesday.
"Each country is going to make their decisions for their own country, but I think there's a growing recognition everywhere that Huawei is a problem," National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien told journalists in Paris.
His comments came after three days of talks with counterparts from France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, which surprised many on Tuesday by banning Huawei entirely from its 5G rollout.
"Europe is awakening to the threat of China," O'Brien said, citing the country's aggressive moves against Hong Kong as well as India in recent weeks as Western nations grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite months of US pressure, other European nations have only imposed limits on using Huawei equipment for 5G or declined to do so, in part over fears of angering a major economic power.
Washington believes Huawei gear could give Chinese authorities a back door into networks that would allow it not only to spy on government secrets but also sweep up vast amounts of personal data.
"Imagine how a country like China could interfere with elections if they knew everything about every single person on earth," O'Brien said.
He said he reiterated "strong evidence" of the links between Huawei, founded by a former Chinese army engineer, and the Chinese Communist Party, "and we've made that evidence available to our partners".
"I don't want to get into some of the more recent technical information that we were able to provide," he said, but asked if that played into the British government's decision this week, he answered "I think it did".
"Our concern with 5G is that it is going to be very difficult to separate the core from the periphery, and that is the track the UK was on, and the UK has decided they now have to brick Huawei out completely," he said.
Other countries including Australia, New Zealand and India have already taken a hard line against Huawei, and France and Italy have announced severe limits on its gear for 5G networks.
"I don't think you'll see much 5G Huawei in France and Italy," O'Brien said.
"We'll have to see about the others," he said. "There's not much we can offer in exchange because we're not trying to sell US telecom equipment to other countries."
"But what we do get in return is that we know that we can rely on our partners, and exchange intelligence and exchange technology," he said.