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Accept Huawei’s offer

Huawei’s proposal of a “no back door" pact with India comes at an opportune time. As New Delhi prepares to welcome US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a visit, it is entirely possible that India’s disposition towards the Chinese telecom major features in the discussions. The US has already put Huawei on a blacklist over espionage-related concerns, and expects allies like India to ban the use of its equipment as well. This being so, Huawei’s offer of a formal agreement that explicitly closes all avenues for data leakage through its 5G systems to the People’s Republic is reassuring. In case the company is found to have violated this deal, it says it would withdraw from the Indian market.

India had earlier declared that it would take a “calibrated" approach to the question of Huawei’s participation in 5G system tests that Indian telecom companies expect to conduct. If the government accepts its proposal of a no-backdoor pact, it would allay worries about Indian mobile operators picking its equipment, if they so choose. How reasonable the proposal is depends crucially on the ability of India’s security establishment to hold Huawei to its word on blocking all external access to vital domestic records and data.

If the Centre is confident of its technical assessment, it should take up Huawei’s proposal. India needs to keep itself open to the best equipment available at the most appropriate cost. Ruling a single supplier out on suspicions of its intent is not a good idea. If those suspicions are proven worthy, of course, it would be an entirely other matter.

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