Beijing has accused Ottawa of “political manipulation” after it moved to ban Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from Canada’s 5G networks.

Speaking at a regular press conference on Friday, Chinese foreign 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,” he told reporters in Beijing.

In an earlier statement, a spokesperson for China’s embassy to Canada accused Ottawa 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 telecoms giants presented potential 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.

Huawei and ZTE are two of China’s most successful technology firms, but have faced growing international scrutiny over alleged close 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 requirements in Chinese law for companies to co-operate with the state on security matters, as well as the significant extralegal pressure that Beijing can bring on Chinese firms.

As early as 2012, the U.S. House 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 next decade, many governments moved to block the participation of the Chinese firms, despite their technology often being more advanced and cheaper than 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.

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

The daughter of Mr. Ren, the Huawei founder, Ms. Meng 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.” Ms. Meng soon resumed her duties at Huawei and in April this year 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 that the cases were not connected.

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

Speaking 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 Michaels. Earlier this week, China reversed a three-year ban on imports of Canadian canola oil that was introduced following Ms. Meng’s detention.

In its statement, the Chinese embassy to Canada 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 welcome Ottawa’s decision, but questioned why it took so long, with Conservative MPs Raquel Dancho and Gérard Deltell saying “the Liberal government’s lack of action on this decision has been an international embarrassment.”

The Globe and Mail, May 20, 2022