UK reversal boosts U.S.-led coalition to end China tech reliance

FPI / May 31, 2020

Commentary by Lee Cohen

With China’s transgressions piling up, U.S. and allied leadership are rising to the occasion to assert opposition. This is particularly apparent in the digital arena, where unchecked Chinese technological presence could spell disaster for global network security.

Last week, the Trump administration applied new sanctions against 33 Chinese companies that either have ties to the Chinese military or have committed human rights abuses. As a further safeguard, the Trump administration has made it compulsory for any company that makes chips for Chinese telecom Huawei, that contain U.S. IP, to first be granted a U.S. government license, or face being placed on the sanctions list.

Following the announcement of U.S. sanctions the UK launched a review of Huawei by its National Security Center, ‘examining proposals to curb the installation of Huawei kit in the 5G network from 2023.’

Following the announcement of U.S. sanctions the UK launched a review of Huawei by its National Security Center, “examining proposals to curb the installation of Huawei kit in the 5G network from 2023.”

This is a welcome objective and a reversal of the Johnson government’s approval earlier this year of Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G buildout, not to exceed 35%. This UK shift of policy brings Britain’s position in line with that of Australia and the U.S. and should eliminate an obstacle in the Trump Administration’s negotiations in the trade talks, currently underway, for a U.S.-UK free trade agreement. Moreover, the UK’s adoption of the new stance relieves the many in Parliament who raised the alarm against Huawei such as former Conservative party leader, Ian Duncan Smith, and Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chairman, Lt. Col. Tom Tugendhat.

This wake-up call has been triggered in large part by China’s behavior in the pandemic, which has motivated our closest ally, the UK to change course and phase out reliance on Chinese product within its critical infrastructures.

The Trump administration has had a rather longer history of pulling back from Chinese dependence. Now both nations are building a brain trust with G-7 colleagues Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as with Australia, India, and South Korea, to combat reliance on Chinese technologies deployment within their national networks.

From its deception early in the pandemic when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) silenced or expelled journalists and medical professionals who questioned them to its very recent actions violating international law to allow Hong Kong to maintain its autonomy, China’s malfeasance expands daily.

To add insult to injury, on Thursday, China’s legislature approved a measure to impose national security restrictions on Hong Kong similar to the police powers in mainland China that allow pushback on anti-CCP policies. In response, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that this move calls into question our trading relationship with Hong Kong because China’s move essentially negated the island’s autonomy upon which the trading relationship is based.

Against this backdrop, the US and UK are engaging other democratic partners to form a “D10” alliance to collaborate and pool investment to develop performance- and cost-effective alternatives to Huawei. Currently, only Nokia and Ericsson operate in the space, but neither can compete with the Chinese telecom on price or performance.

It is noteworthy for his critics, that, for a president oft-criticized for “America First” at the expense of all others, the Trump administration is working very well in this coalition scenario.

In a brilliant essay in today’s UK Spectator, the publication’s political editor, James Forsyth addresses Britain’s new approach to reducing its dependence on Beijing. He closes, “The UK government has now grasped that this country is becoming overly dependent on China. The question is whether it has the energy, determination and strategic nous to get the UK out from under the dragon before it is too late.”

I will not attempt to address that inquiry for the UK, but rather offer that, here in the U.S., under the leadership of Donald Trump, there is no lack of energy, nor determination to address the issue. Moving forward, Trump must be returned to office to see this most critical mission to fruition. As for his Democrat opponent, Joe Biden, neither energy nor determination to buck China are conceivable.

Lee Cohen, a fellow of the Danube Institute and a specialist on U.S-U.K. policy, for years advised the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.

FPI, Free Press International

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