U.S – UK Huawei Ban: Tecnationalism or a Looming New Tech Cold War?

 

 

By Ssemanda Allawi.

 After several months of U.S’ campaign against Chinese telecom giant Huawei claiming the move was due to security concerns, United Kingdom (UK) gave in to Washington’s fear-mongering as London announced a decision to lock Huawei out of their 5G network rollout.

While the U.S has always fronted what they call security concerns as the main reason for their campaign against Huawei, early this year, UK’s security agencies concluded that any risk posed by the vendor (Huawei) was manageable. Indeed, while announcing the decision to side-line Huawei, UK’s secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden informed UK parliament that London decided to lock Huawei out of its market as a result of U.S’ sanctions against the firm which meant that Huawei could no longer use American chips in their kits.

What is clear here is that UK government did not ban Huawei on ground of national security but rather American sanctions on Huawei which some analysts argue are political. Indeed, President Trump’s top Republican party leaders have openly argued that playing “China Card” and Trump attacking China and Chinese firms plays well for his re-election campaign.

While it is now more clear that U.S’ interests are not solely security concerns but rather Trump Administration’s political mathematics of what “card” will give them support in November polls, U.S’ campaign against Chinese firms such Huawei and recently TikTok is emblematic of slowly but steady development of tech-protectionism and America’s latest attempt to change the current global order which is facilitated by U.S’ fear of other emerging tech giants like China.

Whereas Washington insist that their fears are related to the so-called sovereignty and security concerns as they continue to push other countries to back their stand against Huawei and other Chinese tech-firms, it is becoming more clearer that the concerns the U.S is giving are just scapegoats and arguably, the real reason is that the U.S is scared of competition from Chinese firms which have proved to be steadfast and very innovative in terms of technology. It is not a surprise that Huawei which U.S is determined to chase out of market currently is the leading G5 service provider in the world and TikTok on the other hand is the world’s most popular short-form video app including in the U.S with over 80 million users globally.

An argument can therefore be made that U.S’ campaign against Chinese firms is not that these firms pause a security threat but U.S firms have failed to match Chinese firm’s technology advancement and hence this tricky campaign against them.

According to a paper published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which is ranked as the world’s third most influential Think Tank published on 29th June 2020, the formerly technological giants; “Japan and the United States have watched warily as China’s economic heft has grown and as the technological sophistication of its manufacturing base has increased” which leaves the U.S more worried that China is advancing more in technology terms and thereby creating unprecedented fear in Washington with establishments in fear of “losing” this important technological revolution, thus, leaving the U.S to overreact.

The paper further argues that presently, apart from China, there is no other country that on its own has muscle to emerge victorious with excellent technological innovations and suggests the U.S must form allies with other countries such as Japan and “update their decades-old bilateral science and technology cooperation agreement, especially by doing more to nurture private-sector collaboration; and broaden cooperation and deepen funding pools on certain shared strategic priorities, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing”.

Indeed, after UK’s announcement of locking out Huawei out of their 5G rollout, there have been corridor talks suggesting the need to come up with an International tech partnership established on ideals  of the so-called Five Eye intelligence sharing group (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and U.S) or another one based on the recently created so-called ‘D10’ which include G7 countries plus Australia, India and South Korea otherwise known as the ‘democratic 10’.

Arguably, this is based on the fear that China is taking over tech revolution and no other single country may manage to counter them and hence, the need for an alliance in this mission.

The challenge this practice of the U.S looking at China’s great success in technology as competition which leaves the U.S trailing has left the U.S aggressively campaigning against Chinese tech companies and it does not only affect Chinese firms but will in long run affect the U.S itself and other countries that will take U.S’ side.

As James L. Schoff, a senior fellow in Carnegie Think Tank observed; “Fear of “losing” this competition (Technology) is fuelling an unprecedented scale of investment and a zero-sum mentality that could tempt countries to overreact in ways that would damage their national interests and broader global interests.”

The above observation is correct. As a result of their decision to appease U.S by blocking Huawei, on top of losing billions of pounds, the decision meant that plans for UK’s 5G rollout will delay several years as other countries like China move on with their 5G rollout plans uninterrupted.

Put differently, U.S’ campaign against Huawei and other Chinese tech firms has far reaching negative implications to countries that are pressured to follow U.S’ demands as analysts continue to warn that the U.S’ negative campaign against Huawei and West’s attempt to establish a Western Competitor to challenge China’s Huawei is a miscalculation and “ludicrous” gamble.

Though there are other potential alternatives such as Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia, Japan’s Fujitsu or South Korea’s Samsung that can supply countries like UK with G5, the process of switching cannot be realised in very short time. Also, just left the European Union recently, there are higher chances that they are not likely to consider an EU member country’s firm like Finland’s Nokia or Sweden’s Ericsson to provide them with G5 which gives leaves Japan’s Fujitsu or South Koreas’ Samsung possible favourites. Indeed, South Korea’s Samsung was quick to show how willing they are to rollout their G5 in UK.

Whichever Country UK choose to supply them G5, UK cannot completely divorce the relationship with China considering China’s investments in UK. International Monitory Fund (IMF) figures shows China among top investors in the UK with investments in key sectors such as nuclear powers plants like the £20 bn project at Hinkley, and infrastructure sector.

In 2019 alone, China was UK’s 4th source of inputs which valued at £49bn and 6th biggest export market £30.7 which both shows Chinese huge role in UK’s economic development.

Therefore, while the U.S may want to influence the West to disengage from their times with China in an effort ensure the U.S is not aged in the so-called 4th Industrial tech revolution, as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s James. L Schoff put it; “The United States and Japan do not have to upend globalization to compete effectively with China” this maybe not be that easy as Washington may think and it has other far reaching effects to other countries as discussed.

 

Ssemanda Allawi,

Research Fellow; Development Watch Centre.

Author; Global Governance and Norm Contestation: How BRICS is

Reshaping Global Order.

Research Interest: Role of New Media in conducting diplomacy.

Twitter @SsemandaAllawi

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