How London plays Washington by releasing Huawei

By deciding on Tuesday to no longer associate the Chinese giant Huawei with the deployment of their 5G network, the British have just given a certain advantage to the US President, Donald Trump, in the trade dispute between the USA and China.

London no longer wants Huawei. The UK announced on Tuesday, July 15 that it would finally not use the Chinese electronics giant’s equipment for its future 5G network. More specifically, he would no longer order from Huawei and ask the British telecom operators who had already bought equipment from the Chinese group to get rid of it before 2027.

“This is a big turnaround compared to the decision taken in January to allow Huawei to restrict access to the UK 5G network,” recalled Mary-Françoise Renard, head of the Research Institute for Chinese Economy (Idrec), contacted by France 24.

The end of a 20-year-old idyll

A decision which irritates Beijing. Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to London, reacted strongly to this face, describing the British government’s decision as “bad and disappointing”. Chinese authorities have warned Britain that they expect “consequences” if they decide to treat China as an “enemy partner”.

The blow to Huawei is actually all the greater because “for a long time it was said that Britain could be the bridge for the Chinese giant in Europe”, Mary-Françoise Renard emphasizes.

The group has cultivated good relations with the British authorities for almost twenty years. It has invested heavily in the country, especially building one of its most important research and development centers outside China, in Cambridge.

Long-term work that would enable Beijing to make the United Kingdom, “the exhibition perspective of Chinese technical know-how”, explained 2019 for France 24 Jean-François Dufour, head of consulting firm DCA Chine Analyze. The Chinese authorities hoped that if a great power such as the United Kingdom – and also one of Washington’s most important allies – could trust Huawei and “do in China” in general, it would reduce the distrust of other nations. in the case of Beijing.

Donald Trump 1 – Beijing 0

Boris Johnson has efforts and hopes that almost nothing has been dashed to. This strategic change partly reflects the recent deterioration in Sino-British relations. The Hong Kong crisis went there. Britain was among the first countries to have the strongest condemnation of Beijing’s political takeover of the semi-autonomous territory and the former British colony.

In response to the introduction of a controversial national security law in Hong Kong, the British Prime Minister announced, in early June, consider the possibility of issuing “millions of passports” Hong Kong residents who want to leave the city.

But more than a desire to punish Beijing, through Huawei, for its Hong Kong maneuvers, London above all would have “acted out of fear of Washington”, estimates the director of Idrec, Mary-Françoise Renard. US President Donald Trump, who made Huawei his number one public enemy, has intensified sanctions against those who collaborate with a company perceived in the US as a “threat to national security”.

Since May 2020, all companies using US technology “to design or produce chips for Huawei” may be sanctioned by the United States. This is a major problem for the Chinese giant: to develop its 5G equipment, it traditionally requires the knowledge of American companies that specialize in automating chip manufacturing processes. Huawei may try to find alternatives, but nothing guarantees the same level of quality.

It is this uncertainty about Huawie’s resilience that the British Government has invoked to justify its change of attitude. The sanctions “really made a difference, because now they are forcing Huawei to produce everything in China, making the process even more opaque,” said Robert Hannigan, former head of British electronic intelligence. interviewed by the BBC.

Risk of infection

In other words, the defeat of Huawei is an important victory for Donald Trump’s comprehensive sanctions strategy. The American president seems to have finally found weakness in the armor of the Chinese giant who has long leaned support for the Chinese group in his camp. He hurried on Tuesday to applaud London’s decision, which in his eyes is proof that he is succeeding in “convincing more and more countries of the threat that” represents the Chinese consortium.

China may really fear a contagion across Europe from the British decision. “It is certain that if the country with which Beijing had the best relations says ‘no’, there is a risk that it will put pressure on other European states to follow this example,” admits Mary-Françoise Renard.

And Huawei’s fate hanging by a thread in many countries. In Germany, for example, Chancellor Angela Merkel still resisted, at the beginning of the year, the pressure from her party, the CDU, which wanted to fire the Chinese group from the national 5G network. In France, Paris does not want to completely ban Huawei from participating in the development of 5G, but the government supports operators who prefer to do without it …

Hence the strong Chinese reaction. Beijing can not afford to give the impression that it has no consequences to abandon its flagship telecom in the open country. “How you treat Huawei will be closely monitored by other Chinese groups,” said Ambassador Liu Xiaoming. One way of suggesting that some investments – such as China’s General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN)’s participation in the Hinckley Point nuclear power plant – could be questioned.

But the Chinese room for maneuver is narrow, says Mary-Françoise Renard. Beijing is already engaging in an expensive trade war with Washington. Any retaliation against London could provoke a European reaction. The question is whether the support for Huawei in China justifies the opening of a new front in Europe.