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Visitors take pictures of the Huawei stand on the opening day of the MWC in Barcelona on Feb. 28.PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images

Beijing has accused Ottawa of “political manipulation” after it announced it would ban Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE from Canada’s 5G networks.

Speaking at a regular news conference in Beijing Friday, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Canada’s decision “runs counter to market economy principles and free trade rules and has seriously damaged the rights and interests of Chinese companies.”

“China will make comprehensive and serious assessment of the situation and take all necessary measures to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies.”

In an earlier statement, a spokesperson for China’s embassy in Ottawa accused Canada of conspiring with the United States “in suppressing Chinese companies,” saying security concerns were “just a pretext for political manipulation.”

Canadian ministers announced Thursday that a national intelligence review had concluded the two Chinese companies presented security risks. Canadian firms that currently use Huawei and ZTE gear in their networks will be required to remove it over the next five years.

Canada to ban Huawei from 5G network, ministers say

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government’s decision Friday, saying it was made in the interests of national security. He also acknowledged that it may prompt a trade challenge.

“We took this decision to make sure that Canadians remain safe, that our telecommunication networks and our businesses remain secure. And it is the right decision to take for Canada’s interests,” he told reporters in Sept-Iles, Que.

“It’s a decision that parallels decisions made by most of our closest allies. And we understand that it may well lead to challenges at the World Trade Organization, but we feel that it is extremely important to stand up for Canadian protection, Canadian interests and Canadian safety. That’s why we took this decision and we stand by it.”

Huawei and ZTE are two of China’s most successful technology firms, but have faced growing international scrutiny over their alleged ties to the Chinese state and military. Numerous Huawei employees, including founder Ren Zhengfei, are former members of the People’s Liberation Army or the Chinese security services.

Concerns have also been raised over Chinese laws that require domestic firms to co-operate with the state on security matters, as well as the significant extralegal pressure that Beijing can apply to Chinese companies.

As early as 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence warned that “Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems.”

When countries began rolling out next generation networking capabilities over the following decade, many governments moved to block the participation of the Chinese firms, despite the fact their technology was often more advanced and cheaper than that of their competitors.

Until this week, Canada was the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance – which also includes Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the U.S. – that had not yet banned or restricted the use of Huawei 5G mobile equipment.

Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne says after an extensive review Canada will prohibit telecommunications companies from using Huawei and ZTE products in services in their 5G networks. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says cybersecurity is an issue of national security and safeguarding Canada's telecommunications networks is critical.

The Canadian Press

The decision on Huawei has been years in the making and was being considered while Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig spent almost three years in Chinese prisons after being detained in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

Ms. Meng is the daughter of Mr. Ren, Huawei’s founder, and was detained in Vancouver in 2019 at the request of the U.S., which sought her extradition on bank-fraud charges. In September, 2021, Washington and Beijing reached an agreement that allowed Ms. Meng to return to China as part of a deferred prosecution agreement.

In a speech after her release, she personally thanked President Xi Jinping, saying he cared for “every Chinese citizen.” She soon resumed her duties at Huawei and last month was named rotating chairwoman, sharing the top job with a number of other executives.

Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were freed soon after Ms. Meng and returned to Canada, despite Beijing maintaining the cases were not connected.

Since the release of the two Canadians, Ottawa has been hinting that a decision on banning Huawei was imminent. Mr. Trudeau noted in September that many Canadian telecommunications companies had already started removing the company’s technology from their networks.

On Thursday, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the decision to ban Huawei and ZTE “follows a full review by our security agencies and in consultation with our closest allies.”

The move will likely complicate and potentially reverse a gradual rapprochement between Ottawa and Beijing since the release of Ms. Meng and the two Canadians. Earlier this week, China reversed a three-year ban on imports of Canadian canola oil that was introduced after Ms. Meng’s detention.

In its statement, the Chinese embassy said the Huawei ban would “definitely damage the international image and self-interest of the Canadian side.”

Huawei spokesman Alykhan Velshi said the decision was disappointing for the company’s 1,500 Canadians workers. He said the government failed “to actually give a specific example about the national-security threat that Huawei poses.”

Canadian lawmakers across the spectrum have welcomed Ottawa’s decision, but questioned why it took so long, with Conservative MPs Raquel Dancho and Gérard Deltell saying in a joint statement: “The Liberal government’s lack of action on this decision has been an international embarrassment.”

With files from Alexandra Li, Bill Curry and Alexandra Posadzki

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