Tech

Wilbur Ross warns India about Huawei but says the country must 'make its own decision'

Key Points
  • The United States is worried that if its allies use Huawei's 5G telecommunication equipment, they could expose themselves to security risks, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday.
  • Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, disagreed with Ross and offered a strong defense for Huawei. His company owns Bharti Airtel, which is one of the largest telecommunication services provider in Asia and Africa.
  • India has yet to make a decision on whether Huawei will be allowed to participate in the development of 5G technology within its borders, despite pressure from the United States to ban the Chinese tech company.
A Huawei logo on display at MWC Shanghai in June 2019.
Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

NEW DELHI — The United States is worried that if its allies use Huawei's 5G telecommunication equipment, they could expose themselves to security risks, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday.

According to Ross, the U.S. hopes that India "does not inadvertently subject itself to untoward security risk" by using 5G equipment from the Chinese tech giant. He was speaking at a panel discussion during the India Economic Summit.

Huawei's technology has come under scrutiny and countries like the U.S., Japan, and Australia have banned the company from participating in their 5G developments. Washington says Huawei's 5G technology could enable spying by China. Huawei has repeatedly denied that its products represent any risks.

5G is the next-generation of high-speed mobile internet that aims to provide faster data speeds and more bandwidth to carry growing levels of web traffic.

In May, the U.S. added Huawei and its affiliates to a blacklist, halting its ability to do business with American companies. Washington later softened its stance and granted temporary reprieve to the Chinese tech company.

"In 5G, if there is a penetration, if there is, in fact, a backdoor, it's going to infiltrate the whole system. So the proportionality of risk, we think, is very considerable," Ross said, adding that at the end of the day, "India has to make its own decision."

The pressure from Washington comes amid an already-frail trade relationship where the U.S. removed India from a preferential list and New Delhi slapped retaliatory tariffs on American imports.

India-China relations

Indian businessman, Sunil Bharti Mittal, who is chairman of Bharti Enterprises, disagreed with Ross and defended Huawei. His company owns Bharti Airtel, one of the largest telecommunication services provider in Asia and Africa.

"India will take this advice carefully, but the decision will have to be taken politically," Bharti Mittal said when he shared the stage with the Commerce Secretary.

The South Asian country will have to consider its broader relationship with China, he added. "India and China are big trade partners, they're neighbors, they have huge populations to serve."

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India is set to hold 5G trials and the government has yet to make a firm decision on whether Huawei will be allowed to participate. Reports have previously said Beijing warned of consequences if Huawei is banned in India.

India remains one of the last major markets for the tech giant and if it fails to win contracts here, that could spell bad news for the company.

Bharti Mittal said he thought Huawei should play a part in India's 5G development.

He also said he was impressed by Huawei's products — at least in 3G and 4G technology. He said that "without a doubt," they were "significantly superior" to Huawei's rivals Ericsson and Nokia.

"They have actually surprised me on how fast they've been able to take the technology curve to a level where it's leading edge. The power consumption is at a fraction of the Europeans, the footprint is very small, if you have to put it on a tower," Bharti Mittal said. "Now, whether they've compromised some American (intellectual properties), I don't know."