• Toby Irwin

Key to the Huawei

In the last few days the UK government has U-turned on its decision to allow the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei access to the country’s 5G infrastructure. Boris Johnson, despite previously speaking in favour of international involvement in Britain’s new network, has bowed to both domestic and international pressure. Domestically a rise in Tory rebels have derailed Number 10’s plans, leading to division within the commons. Internationally, allies have expressed concern over China’s rising influence abroad. Of course, this is nothing new with China aggressively investing and loaning to Africa and Central Asia, though Huawei would have been a significant milestone in marking intrusion into European technology markets. Of course no ally has been more cautious to Chinese advancement in the UK as the United States.

Just as London grapples with the dilemma, Washington has led the charge against the tech company. Recent rulings from the Trump administration have barred Huawei from using American technology (both software and hardware) in their devices. In a blow to free trade between the world’s largest two economies, the US has decreed that exports to Huawei are not allowed without a government license. Naturally free trade tends to benefit all parties involved, so such a move is inherently politically charged: a trend that one can observe since the assumption of the Trump presidency in January 2017.

Back in London, tensions between the United Kingdom and China are deteriorating over the issue. Not only this, but with technology companies being forced to remove Huawei from their 5G systems by 2027 the question arises whether political motivations should be barring economic and technological progress within the country. There is of course no answer to this, and the reader will have to determine themselves whether they believe the political benefits of an international coalition will outweigh the long term impacts a delay to 5G rollout may incur. For the government, this clearly comes down to a game of macro geopolitics. Does it side with the United States, whose traditional alliance is most valuable in uncertain times though is undoubtedly losing its relative power advantage. Alternatively, does Whitehall believe that getting into Beijing’s good books is preferable even if it alienates international allies? One thing, however, seems certain. With assertiveness continuing in the South China Sea, Uyghur Muslims currently in labour camps, and secrecy and denial surrounding the outbreak of Covid-19, convincing both the public and rebel MPs to accept Chinese investment will prove a difficult task indeed.

At the time of writing, Toby Irwin is a third year student at the University of St Andrews. He is studying International Relations. Areas that interest him the most are UK foreign policy and the defence/aerospace industry.