Takshashila Discussion Document: 5G, Huawei & Geopolitics – An Indian Roadmap

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This report argues that the Indian government must consider the strategic implications of allowing Huawei to have a role in building and operating India’s 5G network infrastructure. While there exists an economic rationale for providing Chinese telecom vendors access to the Indian market, these benefits need to be weighed against national security concerns and geopolitical objectives.

A thorough threat assessment must be conducted at two distinct levels – operational and strategic. The operational level refers to challenges such as espionage, theft, surveillance, denial of services, and disruptions. The strategic level pertains to the potential splintering of the global cyberspace and technology and innovation ecosystems into distinct spheres of influence.

Keeping this in mind, we recommend the following:

  1. Decisions on new technologies have strategic dimensions. Therefore, the Cabinet Committee on Security must have the final say in these matters.
  2. The Government of India should publish a whitelist of governments and vendors identifying trusted partners in the telecom and cybersecurity domains.
  3. India’s 5G network infrastructure must not be overly reliant on any one vendor. Being locked in to one vendor has significant economic, security, and political costs.
  4. While there should be no outright ban on Chinese vendors, their participation should be restricted, conditional, and tightly regulated.
  5. The size of the Indian market must be used as a key source of leverage in order to achieve strategic objectives.

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