Is It Huawei or the Highway?

Chinese telecom giant goes on the offensive in UK, Europe after Trump defeat
January 15, 2021 Updated: January 19, 2021

Commentary

With President Donald Trump set to leave office on Jan. 20, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is wasting no time in picking up where it left off before Trump came to power and spoiled its expansion plans into Europe. Huawei, a Chinese regime-owned 5G vendor, has been linked to cyberattacks, sanction violations, the theft of IP and trade secrets, and corrupt local officials, among other egregious offenses.

A New Campaign for Business?

In the wake of the U.S. presidential elections, the Chinese regime is pressuring the United Kingdom to reconsider its decision to purge Huawei equipment nationwide by 2027. Huawei has similar challenges with Europe as well.

Of course, the pressure from the CCP and Huawei is hardly subtle. Huawei’s vice president warned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently that now that Trump has been defeated, Johnson should “reconsider” his decision. The statement also pushed the narrative that the UK is in no economic condition to refuse Huawei’s help.

Additionally, a tweet featuring the image of Chinese leader Xi Jinping labels the UK as “America’s Dupe” and threatens that “British businesses may face consequences” if it bans Huawei. Apparently for the CCP, it’s Huawei or the highway.

But really, why wouldn’t Huawei put the heat on the UK to re-insert itself into Britain’s telecom infrastructure?

British Weakness

Huawei sees possible weakness in Johnson. After all, in January 2020, Johnson allowed Huawei to have a limited level of participation in the UK’s 5G infrastructure buildout.

Furthermore, with Trump out of the way and a British economy weakened by a lousy Brexit deal and extended pandemic lockdowns, Huawei pressuring the UK makes sense.

Still, it may not be as easy to penetrate British 5G network build-out plans as it was before. The British are now aware of the many risks that come with using Huawei equipment, but they will also have to weigh the risks against the possible “consequences” that Xi has threatened.

The EU: Not So Easy

But it isn’t just the UK that Huawei and the CCP have their sights on; they’re focused on Europe as well.

Europe, however, and particularly the European Union, will likely be a tougher row to hoe than the UK. European skepticism toward the CCP’s most valuable state-owned enterprise is deep and probably past the point of no return, regardless of who’s in the White House.

Though the EU hasn’t put a total ban of Huawei equipment in place, it’s strongly recommending that member states don’t do business with telecommunications companies that lack “democratic checks and balances.”

The obvious target of that remonstration is, of course, Huawei.

Democracies Fighting Back

As a result of these and other developments, such as the 50-plus “alliance of democracies” formed to establish and maintain secure telecom networks explicitly against Huawei, the formerly dominant network equipment supplier has seen its reputation and its business suffer considerably. In the past year or so, Huawei’s foreign business roster has collapsed to only 12 from 90.

Such a dramatic loss in business revenue in such a short period of time, which amounts to billions of dollars, is no doubt another motivation behind Huawei’s pressure campaign to re-acquire lucrative business opportunities that have all but gone away.

Strategic Dimensions

But it isn’t just business losses that are in play, though they are significant and growing. The challenge that Huawei and China itself represents is multidimensional and fluid. Business dominance, after all, leads to political dominance and often, technological denial. Huawei is a key part of the CCP’s grand plan to gain global technological dominance through IP and data theft of cutting-edge technology.

There is also a fundamental geopolitical aspect of both the UK and the EU for China, and both are important factors in Beijing’s Huawei calculations. Gaining a significant technological foothold in either or both regions could undercut the strategic relationships between the United States and the UK or between the United States and NATO European allies. Either outcome would be a major victory for the CCP.

Given the aforementioned alliance of democracies favoring secure telecommunications and the current antipathy toward Huawei in general, the prospect of a strategic decoupling from the United States looks unlikely for both the UK and the EU—at least for the moment.

But on the other hand, strategic alliances demand leadership and vision—or in the case of Trump, the proper motivation clearly, if not brashly, articulated. The U.S. drive to deny Huawei and the CCP the lion’s share of the 5G network business in Europe and the UK came with stout demands and a simple choice: Do business with China or the United States.

Now that Trump is leaving, the Chinese regime may feel that it has more latitude in which to operate vis-à-vis the UK and the EU.

That may or may not be true.

In either case, with the CCP’s asset President-elect Joe Biden soon to be seated in the White House, no doubt that Xi will feel emboldened to push hard against the UK and perhaps even Europe, without having to worry about what the United States will do. 

James R. Gorrie is the author of “The China Crisis” (Wiley, 2013) and writes on his blog, TheBananaRepublican.com. He is based in Southern California.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.