By John Ross Source: Global Times Published: 2019-10-30
Over the weekend, the UK's Sunday Times leaked information about a fight taking place within the British government over whether or not to allow Huawei to participate in Britain's development of its 5G network.
"Senior sources in Whitehall and the security services say the government is moving toward a decision that will see Huawei allowed access to the 'non-contentious' parts of the network - a move that would put the UK on collision course with America, which has banned Huawei," the newspaper noted. "Johnson will have to manage any decision carefully since it would upset Trump and American spy chiefs."
Forces within the British government are echoing US positions by opposing Huawei's participation in Britain's 5G development. They had previously attempted to sabotage the decision of former British Prime Minister Theresa May's government, which was to allow Huawei to participate in Britain's 5G network with restrictions. Then British defence minister Gavin Williamson was dismissed for an unprecedented leaking of information from the secretive British National Security Council in an attempt to block Huawei's participation.
The Trump administration has made major efforts to block what were previously excellent relations between the UK and Huawei. Under former Prime Minister David Cameron, these relations formed part of the "golden period" of UK-China relations which were marked by the highly successful visit of President Xi Jinping to the UK.
Cameron invited Huawei's head, Ren Zhengfei, to friendly official talks at the prime minister's official residence. Huawei became a major contractor for UK telecommunications companies. This was part of a wider policy in which the UK sought mutually beneficial relations with China, becoming the first G7 state to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank despite direct US opposition.
Theresa May's government, which succeeded Cameron after he resigned as prime minister following the UK's vote for Brexit in a 2016 referendum, retreated from this "golden period" of relations with China. It began to limit Huawei's participation in the UK's telecommunications system, restricting its participation to "non-core" parts of its 5G network. But the US was dissatisfied with this outcome and lobbied for the UK to exclude Huawei entirely. In August, on one of his final foreign visits before his dismissal, Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton was sent to the UK to apply pressure on new Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
On this visit, Bolton showed incompetence by publicly revealing the extremely close links between Trump and Johnson. Bolton admitted that Trump and Johnson had had numerous phone calls in the few weeks since Johnson had moved into Downing Street. Directly intervening in the UK's internal affairs, Trump had earlier criticized May during her time in office but declared Johnson would be an excellent prime minister.
While Johnson is undoubtedly seeking close relations with Trump, as shown by the frequent contact between the two, he faces the problem that excluding Huawei from the UK's 5G network would directly damage the country's economic interests. The Sunday Times admitted, "A senior Whitehall source said that some of the technology developed by Huawei was not available off the shelf in the West and that the UK could be left behind if it does not do business with the company."
It is directly in the UK's economic interest that Huawei participates in developing the country's 5G network. But this involves a struggle in the coming weeks as it is clear that the US' Trump administration is continuing to intervene in the internal affairs of not only China, but of the UK.
John Ross is senior fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.