Facing More Pressure from Washington,
Britain Pushes Back on Huawei Dependence
June 05, 2020
The Trump administration’s campaign
to keep Chinese tech giant Huawei out of its allies’ 5G networks appears
to be gaining ground in Britain.
Last year the British government concluded that although Huawei posed a
“significantly increased risk” to British communications, the government
decided to ban Huawei only from the country’s so-called network “core,”
but otherwise allow it to attain up to 35% of Britain’s 5G network
That position changed after months of lobbying by U.S. officials, when
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last month that the country
was examining possibilities for completely excluding Huawei from its 5G
network by 2023.
Now, British officials are trying to forge an alliance of 10 democracies
to develop their own 5G technology and reduce dependence on the Chinese
Experts say Britain’s change of attitude is partly due to concerns that
refusing to cooperate with the U.S. on Huawei will pose a threat to
intelligence sharing and joint defense capabilities with its major ally.
Others caution it’s unlikely that the new alliance will become a reality
since telecom operators in European countries are unwilling to “rip and
replace” Huawei components from their communications systems because of
the high cost, and are lobbying their own governments to make sure
Huawei remains an approved vendor.
'D10' club of democratic partners
The countries in the group are the G7 countries — Britain, Canada,
France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. — plus Australia, South Korea
and India. The proposal includes providing financial support to tech
companies within the alliance.
Justin Sherman, a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council's Cyber
Statecraft Initiative, said that Huawei’s major competitors, Finland’s
Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson, are both unable to attract enough capital
to compete with Huawei’s massive 5G network infrastructure division,
which gets financial support from the Chinese government.
“So there are lots of fronts on which this democratic coalition could
presumably work, including more robust government investment in 5G
research and development projects domestically, greater advocacy for
open 5G standards in international bodies to contest the proprietary
standards that Huawei continues to advance, or even the development of
some kind of industrial policy to help promote 5G innovation," Sherman
told VOA Mandarin.
U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who is one of Huawei’s
leading critics in Washington, warned the British Parliament on Tuesday
that China was trying to use the telecom equipment maker "to drive a
high-tech wedge between us.”
He added that the U.S., Britain and other allies could team up to
develop their own superior 5G technologies.
Meanwhile, the White House launched a major review of Chinese
penetration of Britain’s defense architecture on May 4.
Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program with Washington-based
think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in an
analysis that the British defense community understood a possible
downgrade to U.S.-Britain security cooperation was “very real.”
She said that the implications of this could have led Washington to
withdraw RC-135 spy planes from Britain, a possible reduction in the
10,000 U.S. military personnel based in the United Kingdom, and new
limits on sharing certain intelligence assets.
European telecom operators disagree
Atlantic Council’s Sherman said the Trump administration's strategy is
to continue pressuring firms that are doing business with Huawei, in the
hopes that countries turn away from the company altogether.
That goal remains highly uncertain.
Germany, France and Italy are still vague about whether they will
exclude Huawei from their 5G networks, India has allowed Huawei to
participate in its 5G pilot zones since last December, and South Korea
has criticized the United States’ recent semiconductor ban on Huawei as
Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the Brussels-based European Centre for
International Political Economy (ECIPE), told VOA Mandarin that telecom
operators in Europe are reluctant to give up on Huawei.
“The telecom industry operators are very sympathetic to Huawei for
natural reasons … 70% of the telecom base stations in Germany, in
France, are made by Huawei,” he told VOA.
added that telecom operators in Europe are owned by financial
institutions, pension funds or governments, which means they are not as
interested in investing in new networks or reinvesting in high-end
“5G for them is just a cost,” he said.
He also pointed out that compared to the U.S. and Asian countries, the
demand of European telecom users is not as high.
"Consumers are not demanding higher speed. Shareholders prefer to see
dividends rather than investments in the networks,” said Lee-Makiyama.
“So, all in all, they are big fans of Chinese suppliers and they are
lobbying very hard against their governments to make sure that Huawei
continues to be allowed in the European markets.”