The UK-China dispute over Huawei is only part of a wider battle that extends to the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the Hong Kong national security law, human rights in China, and maritime security in the South China Sea.
In principle, there seems to be little that is holding back the newly assertive China, apart from the strategic concern that it is forced to engage on too many fronts at the same time. China seems ready to trade sanctions with the U.S. and its allies to defend its commercial, maritime, and political interests, but it is not yet clear how it will respond if Huawei̵
In the past 48 hours, China has sanctioned Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, US Representative Chris Smith, and Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback. The measure was taken in response to U.S. sanctions against Chinese officials for treating minority Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang, Beijing said.
It has also imposed sanctions on Lockheed Martin for participating in the recent US arms sale to Taiwan, which China considers to be part of its territory. The US arms maker is the prime contractor for an upgrade package for Taiwan’s Patriot surface-to-air missile worth $ 620 million (GBP 494 million), which the US government approved last week.
China has also condemned a Japanese defense review accusing China of tirelessly trying to change the status quo in the South China Sea.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China has filed a complaint about the review. “Japan’s Defense White Paper is full of prejudice and false information,” he said in a daily meeting. “It is trying to do everything possible to exaggerate the so-called China threat.”
Similarly, a statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday caused China’s anger to deny China’s controversial claims to offshore resources in much of the South China Sea. Pompeo said the allegations were “completely illegal”, citing a 2016 ruling.
Beijing said, “The United States has repeatedly sent large fleets of sophisticated military aircraft and ships to the South China Sea. The United States is the troublemaker and destroyer of regional peace and stability.”
However, the UK will worry whether China will take reprisals against the UK over Huawei’s easing, particularly if the decision leads to a rush of similar exclusions across Europe for security reasons.
China has already given Australia a taste of how its displeasure can be expressed. Sanctions were imposed days after Canberra proposed to the World Health Organization to investigate the causes of the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan. An enemy state actor, according to the Australian government, also launched a cyber attack on the Australian state.
Taking over Australia is relatively easy for China. In 2018, exports to China accounted for more than 32% of Australia’s total, twice as much as the second largest trading partner. China buys a full two-thirds of Australian barley shipments worth approximately $ 1 billion a year. It also buys 24% of Australian beef worth nearly $ 2 billion.
Britain is not similarly dependent on China, but it was noticed that the British government did not want to adopt the decision to loosen Huawei. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden repeatedly told MPs on Tuesday that the UK decision was imposed by new U.S. sanctions announced by its commercial department on May 15 and banning the use of U.S.-made microchips in Huawei devices would surely have Great Britain using Huawei in 5G. He did not mention the Chinese security measure against Hong Kong.
The sanctions declaration, which is offered without condemning US interference in the national sovereignty of the United Kingdom, has a three-fold purpose. This allows ministers not to admit that they have been overwhelmed by their backers, frees the UK State Department from charges of misjudging China’s strategic threat in its original January decision, and may cause the UK to be at fault of the Chinese decrease. Dowden made a lot of the modern and mature relationship Britain is looking for with China.
Beijing could try to punish Britain to keep other European governments from following Britain’s example, or wait and see if only the British judge the impact of new US sanctions so fully. It will be another test of European solidarity after Brexit.
So far, the head of the French cybersecurity authority has ruled out a complete ban on Huawei, and Deutsche Telekom, Huawei’s largest customer in Europe, has decidedly opposed a general ban on individual providers.
Much will depend on Germany’s perspective. If Berlin decides to give Huawei permission to play a significant role in its 5G network, even if it only happens in “non-core” areas, other smaller, less influential countries could follow.