We have now confirmation, where applicable, that the UK decision to ban Huawei of its 5G network is a direct result of pressure from US President Trump and his security team. There was also the non-trivial issue of a turnaround in the advice from British ghosts to its politicians – the risks associated with Huawei equipment could no longer be mitigated. This, again, was directly attributable to the US campaign against the Chinese tech giant. At first glance, it might look like a victory for Washington, but it’s not that simple: Huawei is far from defeated.
The clear implication in the UK is that the Huawei decision is a matter of policy and has little to do with security. The British cyber team tasked with defending the kingdom against threats from Chinese equipment has only changed its mind because, at America’s insistence, US components of Huawei equipment are replaced by Chinese equivalents (likely). A change in political winds – there are US elections now just a few months away – and lobbying and supply chain restrictions could easily disappear.
This context behind the UK’s “materially” altered security report that the change was US fabricated is critical. In the absence of the last sanctions, the United Kingdom’s counsel would not have changed and the reason for the overthrow of the United Kingdom would not exist. Confirmation from the main supplier of TSMC chips, that it will stop supplying Huawei in September under the new US rules, was also infused with the implication that these rules needed to be relaxed or changed, or if the company were to successfully apply for a supply license, that we would quickly return to normal.
Even the structure of the recently announced UK reversal is a matter of detail. The decision to ban purchases of 5G equipment from next January leaves an important procurement window wide open and is designed to restrict the acquisition of standalone 5G kits rather than LTE to 5G upgrades. The long grace period (until 2027) before an extraction and replacement is mandatory, and the silence on existing 3G and 4G equipment already deployed, has left many options on the table. If a week is long in politics, seven years is a lifetime.
Trump quickly took credit for the British decision, customize victory, and it is true that the president has waged a long and difficult campaign to persuade his main defense and intelligence ally to follow the American line. But Washington’s relations with Beijing are radically different from those of London. The United States can ward off China’s economic threats – neither can live without the other. A UK facing the harsh realities of a post-COVID Brexit is not in such a fortunate position. China has issued new threats of “reprisals“Following Huawei’s decision. And that carries some weight in a country dependent on Chinese investment in infrastructure and technology, and with a huge Huawei equipment installation base.
Huawei UK public relations chief Ed Brewster pointed out in a busy BBC Newsnight interview last week that the company’s UK mission continues. Investments in R&D and the decision, announced after the 5G reversal, to open new flagship stores should tell you everything you need to know about Huawei’s position on its future in the UK. “We know millions of people here in the UK love our products,” the company said, announcing the £ 10million ($ 12.5million) investment. American hawk politicians come and go, this Chinese giant is playing a much longer game.
The group of British politicians who have lobbied their government for tougher sanctions against Huawei know there is a risk of further change as this story unfolds during the US election in November and whatever fallout we see investigations into the origins of the coronavirus and Beijing’s alleged disinformation. There is also a much broader tech deadlock, which has now dragged TikTok into the mix.
The United States is quickly approaching a decision point as to how far it wants to go, before the implications for its own tech sector become much harder to sell at home. The headlines might be filled these days with news of new investment in India, but China is China, and it won’t be easily replaced as a global technological manufacturing center and the hottest consumer market in the world. world.
Taking a step back from this pivotal week in the US-Huawei battle, it’s hard not to think that the UK has left the door ajar for further twists and turns. The decision is based solely on US lobbying and sanctions, and the UK doesn’t want to end up with control if the US changes its tone.