US and UK at odds over Huawei involvement in British 5G network

US and UK at odds over Huawei involvement in British 5G network

Timothy Ogden

Despite a storm of controversy over the decision, the government of the United Kingdom has decided to proceed with its plans to build its country’s 5G network with input from Huawei. The risk in this, of course, lies in the fact that the West and China remain firm rivals; while the tense relations are not quite as severe as the Cold War 2.0 situation Europe and the USA find themselves in with Russia (and nowhere near as dangerous the openly hostile relationship the Free World has with Iran), China and the West are entirely prepared to cut each other’s throats in the realms of trade, economics, and technological advancement.

The move has been strongly condemned by the United States, a country which London cannot really afford to anger at this time. With the UK leaving the European Union, and thereby souring its relations with its closest Western neighbors, Britain will become increasingly reliant on goodwill in Washington to ensure its continued economic strength, as well as a position of relative importance on the world stage. The British Empire now exists only in the pages of history: the UK cannot function as an independent country with global power in the 21<sup>st</sup> century. Of course, this was never such an important factor in years prior when it enjoyed EU status, since the European Union as a collective bloc is an economic power fit to rival the US and China. Alone, however, the UK must belong to one camp or another, and with EU trade relations remaining in flux, it cannot afford to lose US support.

Condemnation, however, has come from across the whole spectrum of American politics. Although America suffers from the extreme Left-Right division that has also wracked European affairs in recent years, representatives from both the Democratic Party and their Republican rivals were unanimous in their disappointment with Britain’s decision. Ruben Gallego, US Representative for Arizona’s 7<sup>th</sup> Congressional District, tweeted: “Cannot be said enough. Our special relationship with the UK has to be reconsidered in light of this. Our intelligence sharing capability is going to be compromised by this penny pinching action.”

Elise Stefanik, a Republican politician serving in New York’s 21<sup>st</sup> Congressional District (who has a particular interest in cyber security, co-sponsoring the Cyber Ready Workforce Act) called the decision “wrong, dangerous, and a grave shortsighted mistake”. Higher up the Republican food chain, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “Our view of Huawei has been that putting it in your system creates real risk. This is an extension of the Chinese Communist Party with a legal requirement to hand over information to the Chinese Communist Party.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed American concerns as well as some from his own Conservative Party, including from Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. Yet there is the possibility that the UK may have had little choice in the matter. “I think it’s a pragmatic decision that brings stability and continuity in the 5G ecosystem,” said Stephane Teral from IHS Markit, a UK-based information company.”Huawei has been investing in the UK and in other countries in Europe including France, Germany, Italy, and Poland since the beginning of this century. A ban would have been disastrous.”

Exactly how it would have been disastrous remains a matter of speculation, but given China’s embedded involvement in Western infrastructure, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that London has been strong-armed into the decision. It must be stressed that this is purely speculation – however, it is demonstrably the case that Britain’s assurances that Huawei will have only a limited role in its 5G network have, in fact, reassured no-one.

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