WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump’s softened stance on whether he’d freeze out allies over Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is a “new nuance” as deliberations continue over whether to ban the firm, a senior Canadian official said.
The US is pressing allies like the UK and Canada to ban Huawei from new 5G telecommunications networks, including by threatening to limit intelligence-sharing — only for Trump to say last week the step wouldn’t be necessary with Britain.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (picture) told reporters on Monday in Washington that Ottawa continues to weigh whether to ban Huawei, but noted Trump’s comments in a news conference with British Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May and said he is seeking more details.
Goodale was scheduled to speak with Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan later on Monday.
“Just last week there was another new nuance in this discussion,” Goodale said. The president, he said, “indicated that he thought whatever difference of view could be easily worked out”.
Asked what he thought Trump meant, the Canadian replied: “I’m anxious to examine that question.”
The US has been leaning on allied nations to ban or restrict the use of Huawei — and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has threatened to choke off intelligence sharing otherwise.
The warning is squarely aimed at the UK and Canada, who each share intelligence closely with the US as part of the so-called Five Eyes network that also includes Australia and New Zealand.
The latter two countries have already taken steps to restrict Huawei’s access to their markets.
Trump’s more conciliatory tone on Huawei came last week during a news conference with May. The president said he is confident that the UK and US would agree eventually on how to treat the Chinese telecommunications firm.
“We’re going to have absolutely an agreement on Huawei and everything else. We have an incredible intelligence relationship, and we will be able to work out any differences,” he said.
The president answered “no” after he was asked whether the UK could be cut off from US intelligence over the dispute. Trump has also sowed confusion about the US position on Huawei by repeatedly suggesting the company’s status might be resolved as part of trade talks with China, undercutting his government’s official position that it’s a national security matter.
“I do see it as a threat. At the same time, it could be very well that we do something with respect to Huawei as part of our trade negotiation with China,” Trump said during a phone interview with CNBC on Monday morning. “China very much wants to make a deal. They want to make a deal much more than I do, but we’ll see what happens.”
US VP Mike Pence said in an interview with Fox News on Monday that the US continues to regard Huawei as a national security threat because of the Chinese government’s alleged power to access its data.
Huawei “represents a fundamental compromise of our national security and of the national security of our allies”, Pence said, adding that the administration has “said that to our allies very consistently”.
Canada continues to weigh whether it will restrict or ban Huawei from its 5G network, Goodale said, but has put the issue on the back-burner. Goodale said he assumes the country would decide this year, but may not.
“It is ongoing,” he said. “We have not settled on a firm time frame. We obviously understand that this is an urgent topic and we want to make a decision as rapidly as we can, but the most important thing is to make sure the decision that we take is the right decision.”
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has said the decision will be made only on facts, not politics.
The scope of Canada’s review is also unclear — Goodale would not rule out the chance that any ban could affect existing 4G equipment, though he downplayed that later by saying he “would not want to raise a spectre of anxiety”.
Canada is on the front lines of the Huawei feud, as it arrested the company’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, last year after a US request.
China seized two Canadian citizens nine days later, and they remain in custody, while Meng’s court proceedings inch forward. — Bloomberg