Britain's Post-Brexit Conundrum ó America or
May 9, 2019
Britain is eager to negotiate trade deals
with the United States and China to
compensate for leaving the European Union,
by far the country's largest trading
partner, but it is already discovering the
snag of balancing geo-political requests of
its traditional ally with the ambitions of
Beijing, say analysts and diplomats.
Beijing hopes a trade deal will not only
make Britain a secure base for Chinese
companies looking to enhance their global
brand value and make new acquisitions, but
will lead to the British becoming advocates
within the West for China's interests, say
Beijing has "high hopes of the UK acting as
a cheerleader for China's global ambitions,"
according to Yu Jie of Britain's Chatham
House. But cheerleading for China will come
at the expense of its traditional alliance
with the United States.
Lure of Huawei
The transatlantic spat over whether Britain
should allow the Chinese technology giant
Huawei to build parts of Britain's
fifth-generation (5G) mobile network is a
preview of Britain's post-Brexit dilemma.
Chinese technology and investment already
looks alluring enough for a Britain
desperate to fashion post-Brexit trade deals
to disregard U.S. security alarm over Huawei
and to place short-term commercial gain
ahead of its established diplomatic
relations with the United States.
Washington fears the Chinese telecoms giant
will act as a Trojan horse for China's
espionage agencies, allowing them to sweep
up data and gather intelligence,
compromising not only Britain's security,
but also America's, say U.S. officials.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
reiterated Washington's alarm in meetings
Wednesday with Prime Minister Theresa May
and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in
London. Pompeo has warned Western allies to
shun Huawei or risk losing
intelligence-sharing arrangements with
Washington. U.S. officials say a failure to
reverse the decision will harm Britain's
much vaunted special relationship with
The United States has blocked Huawei from
government communication systems, but
Washington has not yet banned Chinese
telecommunications gear from civilian
networks. Thatís partly because some
American carriers in rural areas already use
May provisionally gave the go-ahead last
month for the Chinese tech giant's
involvement in developing the 5G network.
She did so in the face of opposition from
her security and foreign ministers, amid the
dire U.S. warnings.
A White House official told VOA the issue
will likely be raised during U.S. President
Donald Trump's state visit next month to
Australia and New Zealand have decided to
block or heavily restrict using Huawei's
technology in developing their 5G networks.
Huawei denies being controlled by the
Chinese government and says its equipment
can't be used for espionage.
British officials dismiss claims May's
decision was made in Britain's search for
post-Brexit trade deals.
But critics say if Britain is going to
strike a trade deal with China after leaving
the European Union, Huawei will likely play
a major role and London could ill-afford to
offend Beijing by blocking the telecom
giant. Huawei, one of China's biggest
exporters, has pledged to spend $4 billion
on British products and services.
The critics worry the Huawei decision is
part of the pattern of a Chinese government
that attaches political strings to
'Easy prey for Beijing'
A post-Brexit Britain will be "easy prey for
Beijing," fears Ed Lucas, a commentator for
Britain's The Times newspaper. He argues
London will be in a position of weakness in
negotiating bilateral trade deals and there
is a high risk of a "hard-pressed and
isolated Britain being bossed around by
China's Communist Party."
"On most fronts, Britain is already quite
prepared to grovel," he said, pointing to
the visit last month of Britain's finance
minister, Philip Hammond, to a conference in
In Beijing, Hammond praised the "truly epic
ambition" of China's Belt and Road
Initiative, a massive trillion-dollar trade,
investment and infrastructure program
launched in 2015 to spur trade along land
and sea routes linking Asia, Africa and
Europe, that is prompting Western concern.
The European Union last month dubbed China a
previous Conservative government also looked
toward China for commercial deals.
Hard-pressed from the fallout of the 2008
financial crash, it too was attracted by
Chinese investment, and in 2013 became the
first Western country to join the Asian
Infrastructure Investment Bank.
The move was condemned by the administration
of then-U.S. President Barack Obama, with a
senior U.S. official complaining to the
London-based Financial Times about Britain's
failure to maintain a united front and its
"constant accommodation" of China.
As Britain re-thinks its place in the world,
it appears to be hedging its bets when it
comes to choosing between Washington and
Beijing, says Jonathan Shaw, the former head
of cybersecurity at Britain's defense
ministry, a critic of May's Huawei decision.
"We are facing a new technological Cold War
between China and America, and America has
asked us to choose," he told a London radio