OF OUR allies, we can thank the US most for speaking truth to friends.
In January 2019, the US government indicted Huawei for industrial espionage, wire fraud, evading sanctions, and obstruction of justice. The next month, the US government warned that it would curtail its sharing of intelligence and dual-use technologies with countries that allow Huawei into their telecoms.
In May, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order blocking Huawei from operating in America. Then the US government banned US suppliers from exporting to Huawei without government approval. Last month the US added racketeering charges against Huawei, referring to decades of misappropriation of American intellectual property,
and the top US official for cyber security again warned the British government that persevering with Huawei in 5G would impact US intelligence-sharing. Also last month, the leading Republican on the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee tabled a resolution refuting each of the arguments thrown around by the British government, and calling on Parliament to exclude Huawei from 5G.
Britons who dismiss such warnings and resolutions as Republican unity are missing the cross-party consensus in Congress against British policy.
Earlier this month, a cross-party group of 20 senators called on the House of Commons to reverse Boris Johnson’s confirmation of Huawei’s involvement into 5G. The Republican chair of the Senate’s intelligence committee and the committee’s Democrat vice-chair both signed the letter. The consensus extends from the leading Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, to the leading House Democrat, Nancy Pelosi.
Given that leading Democrats are united with the Republican President on this issue, British progressives cannot claim that opposition to Huawei is ‘conservative’. Nor can they dismiss American concerns as simply a difference of risk aversion.
The American arguments are more nuanced than those aired in Britain. The British elite is out of its depth, from the civil service to the BBC. The civil service sees the only negative issue as security of information, then asserts that concerns about security are overblown, or temporary, or can be controlled by parsing the ‘core’ from the ‘periphery’, which proves ignorance. So far as the civil service admits the true extent of Huawei’s threat, the civil servants keep telling ministers to think of Chinese trade.
American arguments include objections to unfair trade. The 20 US senators pointed out the billions of dollars of financial assistance that Huawei has received to make it the cheapest in the market. The Australian government has published evidence that Huawei uses China’s Uighur minority as slave labour.
While British civil servants downplay the security threats and overstate the economic advantages, US senators warn Parliament of the ‘significant security, privacy, and economic threats’. The Chinese state wants wider Huawei domination of telecomms not just for economic reasons, but to help the state with espionage into both official and commercial secrets. Chinese law obliges the company to co-operate with state intelligence agencies. Huawei’s technological advances are often made by theft of foreign intellectual properties.
Another under-attended complaint is that the British precedent makes Chinese penetration into other countries easier. China has already pressured Australia to accept Huawei into 5G on the argument that Britain has already accepted.
Britons should wake up to the wider ramifications now that the American legislature is so clearly united with the President against British policy on Huawei. It is the legislature, not the President, that ratifies any exports of military technologies, any change in intelligence sharing and any post-Brexit trade deal with Britain.
Thus advocates of Huawei cannot just argue that the firm is cheap, secure or good for the economy. Advocates must now argue that a choice for China will substitute for lost American free trade, intelligence, and arms.