Huawei received approval on Thursday to build a $1.25 billion research facility in the United Kingdom. The announcement comes as the United Kingdom is scrutinizing the Chinese telecom company’s involvement in the country’s 5G networks.
The nine-acre facility in Cambridge will become the international headquarters of Huawei’s fiber optic communication business and create around 400 jobs, Huawei said in a press release.
The investment comes at a sensitive time for the company. The United Kingdom is undertaking a new security review of the company, just four months after Prime Minister Boris Johnson shrugged off US objections and granted Huawei a limited role in building out the UK’s next generation of super-fast interconnected 5G wireless networks.
Johnson had announced a 35% cap on Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G network, but he’s under pressure from some lawmakers within his own party and the Trump administration to ban Huawei altogether, arguing that the Chinese government could use Huawei for its own efforts, including spying.
Under Chinese law, Chinese companies can be ordered to act under the direction of Beijing. Huawei has consistently denied that it would help the Chinese government to spy, and says it is “100% owned by employees.”
The new campus and hundreds of new jobs also comes as the UK economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with millions claiming unemployment benefits. In a statement, Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang touted what the new campus would do for the UK economy, saying it wants “to help enshrine the UK’s leading position in optoelectronics and promote UK tech on a global scale.”
Any future decision on Huawei could weigh on the UK’s future relationship with the United States as the two countries try to work out a post-Brexit trade deal. The Trump administration has been heavily cracking down on Huawei, most recently restricting its ability to manufacture and obtain semiconductor chips using American made technology.
On Thursday, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair warned that the United Kingdom needs to make a pro-US call on Huawei.
“One of the extraordinary things about 5G is that the West has in a way just allowed this advantage, this superiority to be gained,” Blair said at a Reuters event. “It is very hard for us not to be with the US on anything that touches US security.”