Special to WorldTribune , April 6, 2020
Commentary by Lee Cohen
The world’s leading economies have been saddled so far with costs from the coronavirus pandemic nearing $4 trillion and China must be pursued for its role in the crisis.
A reset of relations with the communist behemoth is urgently required and there will surely be fallout for China’s existing commercial dealings including controversial telecoms giant Huawei which had triggered significant national security concerns among policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic well before the appearance of the virus.
Furthermore, U.S. allies, especially the UK, are said to be furious at China’s deceitful public relations campaigns that go so far as to blame the U.S. for starting the Wuhan virus.
Though Boris Johnson’s government and some EU countries had committed to deploying significant Huawei product in the rollout of their nations’ 5G infrastructure, critics in Washington and London have expressed their alarm over fears of espionage and national security concerns. Back in November, the discovery of Huawei equipment near a missile base in Montana led the FCC to ban U.S. companies from using federal funds to purchase equipment from the Chinese telecoms.
Furthermore, following concerns that Huawei’s integration with our allies’ military and government infrastructures could expose intelligence efforts to espionage, in May, the Trump administration placed Huawei on a sanctions list in addition to encouraging UK and European countries to ban Huawei.
U.S. concerns are shared by many in the UK. A new report out of London reveals “evidence that China directly breached international healthcare treaty responsibilities, and outlines ten legal avenues major nations could take to pursue dam-ages from them.”
In concert with the report, 15 senior members of Johnson’s Tory Party have written the PM to demand an urgent “rethink” in the relationship with China.
Huawei was chosen in Europe because its technology allegedly provides superior performance and lower cost than other providers. According to British Telecom chairman, Sir Mike Rake “Any attempt to further restrict Huawei 5G equipment or to remove exist-ing 4G equipment, will not only incur very significant costs but prejudice trade relation-ships with China and will significantly set back the government’s broadband ambition. He continued, “This, in turn, will further damage our competitiveness as an economy, at what is a critical moment.” However, such reluctance to disengage with Huawei will likely be thwarted in light of China’s conduct and role in the pandemic.
Seizing on the crisis, Huawei has attempted to strong-arm countries using its technology to press ahead. Huawei vice-president Victor Zhang managed expectations that the global pandemic would delay the 5G rollout in the UK and Europe. But Zhang went on to caution that the increased needs associated with the current global crisis necessitated pushing forward with the Huawei-enabled 5G deployment. “We need to accelerate the network bandwidth… to make sure everyone can work and can entertain and can share information,” he said.
To add insult to injury, the Xi Jinping government has not only remarkably tried to assign blame for the virus to the United States, but it has also tried to position itself as a model of humanitarian relief, sending medical equipment to hardest-hit countries, such as Italy.
Last month the New York Times reported that the Chinese government actually engaged in a campaign suggesting COVID-19 “is an American disease that might have been introduced by members of the United States Army who visited Wuhan in October.”
While global efforts to contain the damage of the virus are preoccupying all of the world’s governments, the final judgment on Huawei and a reset with the Chinese is likely to be delayed. However, it becomes more clear every day that China’s deception and irresponsibility must be reckoned with urgently.
Lee Cohen is a fellow of the Danube Institute. He was an adviser on Europe to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.