The decision by President Donald Trump to bar American companies from doing business with Huawei is leaving the country’s allies caught between a rock and a hard place as the president’s rationale for the ban shifts, according to a former U.S. ambassador to Canada.
In an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Bruce Heyman said he was concerned the changing explanation for the decision by the Trump administration makes it harder for U.S. allies to justify following suit.
“Either it is a national security threat or it’s not, and you don’t negotiate that away in a trade agreement,” Heyman said.
“So he’s made this too complicated and really put Canada in a tough spot on this.”
Heyman’s remarks come after Trump last week told reporters he was open to including the Chinese technology giant in a trade deal, raising the question of whether his ban is a negotiating tactic rather than a decision grounded in evidence of specific threats.
Earlier this month, Trump signed an executive order forbidding American firms from doing business with companies deemed national security threats.
As he did so, his administration added Huawei to the Bureau of Industry and Security’s Entity List, effectively a trade blacklist.
American intelligence leaders warned Huawei posed an espionage risk for years before Trump was even a political candidate.
While the company has rejected the warnings that it could be ordered to use its technology to spy for the Chinese government, intelligence officials in the U.S. have said the risk is just too great and advocated for heavy restrictions on the use of its components in critical infrastructure.
But Huawei parts are less expensive than some of their European or American counterparts, and that has prompted Canadian telecom companies to warn they may not be able to proceed with anticipated upgrades to networks here if they are blocked from using Huawei parts.
For months, Canadian security officials have been conducting a review of whether the company poses a threat to the next-generation 5G networks set to come up for auction either this year or next.
Earlier this year, an Israeli cybersecurity specialist revealed that a Chinese telecom company had been secretly diverting Canadian internet traffic to China, and warned it would be “too dangerous” to let Huawei into the 5G network.
Several Five Eyes countries have either banned or restricted Huawei’s access to their critical infrastructure.
After Trump’s restrictions, the U.K. and Japan both stalled the release of new Huawei phones while Google suspended support for some Android features on the devices.
Canadian leaders, though, have refused to say whether they consider the Chinese firm a threat.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau was asked about the matter earlier this month and hinted the government wants to avoid anything that might shake the economy.
Heyman did not say whether he believes the firm is a risk but says it’s important for Canada and the U.S. to coordinate on issues of joint concern.
But that only works if they are both on the same page about the basis for the decisions taken, he suggested.
“I think that we should do things together, it’s about collaborating, but the president hasn’t played all his cards yet on what he really believes on this. Is this something he wants to negotiate away and is this a complete negotiating strategy, or is this something they really believe is a threat to national security?” he said.
“I think we’ve got to see this play out a little bit more.”