With Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor free, Ottawa now faces a decision on Huawei 5G ban

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A long-delayed decision before the federal government about banning Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from building Canada’s 5G wireless networks comes under the spotlight following the withdrawal of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

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While two Canadians were in custody in China, Ottawa was notably silent on the question, even as its allies moved to ban Shenzhen-based Huawei over security concerns.

But observers expect the federal government to now be under pressure to announce a decision on the Huawei 5G question, with the return of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor to Canada, and that of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou after reaching the postponed prosecution in China. a settlement.

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Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor: After 1,020 days of imprisonment in China, two captives reach home in Canada

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Meng Wanzhou arrived in China with fanfare after being released from Canadian custody

Until now, ensuring the return of the two Michaels was a key element of Ottawa’s engagement with Beijing, said Jonathan Berkshire Miller, a senior fellow at the McDonald-Laurier Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank. While Canadian officials “wouldn’t admit they wanted to go down the road on the 5G decision, I think effectively that was a big factor,” he said.

“I think there will be a lot of pressure from the opposition to resolve this now,” Mr Miller said. Campaigning during this year’s federal election, the Conservative Party vowed to ban Huawei equipment “to protect national security”.

Mr Miller said Canada is “largely final” in making a decision about Huawei.

The United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand – the other four members of the “Five Eyes” security and intelligence alliance to which Canada belongs – have banned or banned Huawei. It has been effectively cut off from 5G networks in other countries such as Japan and Taiwan.

Huawei is regarded as a world leader in fifth generation (5G) wireless communications networks, which promise to be faster than existing technologies and facilitate remote manufacturing, self-driving vehicles and more. But the company has been surrounded by allegations that it is merciful to China’s ruling Communist Party and may help Beijing spy on its Western rivals or even sabotage their communications networks. (Huawei has consistently denied such allegations.)

Noting the wider implications at play, Mr Miller said Ottawa’s decision on Huawei would involve several federal departments – innovation, science and economic development, public security, foreign affairs and defense – as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The federal government remained non-committal this weekend. “While we cannot comment on specific companies, an examination of emerging 5G technology and related security and economic considerations is underway,” John Power, spokesman for François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, said in a statement on Sunday. said in. .

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“Our government is clear that it will pursue an approach that takes into account important domestic and international considerations, and will make decisions that are best for Canadians.”

Paul Evans, professor of public policy and global affairs at the University of British Columbia, said it was likely that the government would ban Huawei from participating in 5G networks. “If we do anything else, the enormous forces in this country will go crazy,” he said.

But Prof. Evans noted that even though some of Canada’s closest allies have kicked the company out of their 5G networks, Huawei continues to dominate the global stage.

“Sometimes it feels like it is a global stampede. It’s not – in fact, Huawei is still the No. 1 5G provider globally.”

Having been in disputes with Huawei for several years, Canada’s major carriers have turned elsewhere.

Vancouver-based Telus Corp and Montreal-based BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada have Huawei gear in their networks, but are slowly swapping it out. In a report last month, Tim Casey, telecommunications analyst at BMO Capital Markets, said both companies have included the cost of retiring Huawei gear in their capital spending plans.

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Mr Casey wrote in the report, “Bell has a small but dwindling risk to Huawei, which is being factored into its current spending net.” He added that Telus “has some exposure to Huawei within its legacy RAN”. [radio access network] But over the next two years that gear is taking off. “

Last year, Bell Canada announced that it would buy devices from Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland-based Nokia. Rogers Communications Inc. acquired its network equipment exclusively from Ericsson, and Telus announced partnerships with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. This year, SaskTel announced that Samsung would provide all the hardware, software and expertise for its 5G network.

In a statement on Sunday, Huawei said it employs 1,500 employees in Canada and continues to recruit. Network equipment includes only one of its business lines, which includes consumer devices such as smartphones, laptops, and wireless earbuds; enterprise equipment; and smart office productivity tools.

Huawei spokesperson Alikhan Welshi said, “Although Canada is a small market for us, generating about 1 percent of the company’s global revenue, the country is an attractive one to invest in because of its skilled and diverse workforce and openness to immigration.” The place is made.” Canada.

With a report by Andrew Willis

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