As we head to a no deal Brexit and serve ourselves up like a trussed chicken to the United States to pick over, any residual resistance from any part of the government to allowing Huawei to retain any input into the UKs 5G networks is evaporating fast.
This is not a commercial or technical consideration. Huawei has the technological edge, and there are no “Western” companies that can match it. Using alternatives to the best technology on offer involves significant costs – both in the expense of the system itself and the effects of having one that does not work as well as it could.
There are a number of spurious arguments put forward for why this sacrifice is worthwhile – centring on “national security” and political alignment, which are curiously lacking in self awareness.
This follows sanctions from the US to prevent Huawei using any technology with a US patent and pressure from other members of the “5 Eyes” international intelligence network ,which binds the US with the old “White Commonwealth” countries (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and given voice – inevitably – by former Head of MI6 Sir John Sawers, though any old spook would have done.
The presumption here is that sharing anything and everything by way of “intelligence” with the USA – in the fine old tradition of a “special relationship” that trades in “special rendition” – can only be a good thing; whereas inadvertently letting some information slip through to China is the road to some sort of unspecified national disaster.
This requires a presumption of emnity with China that follows from one of two ideas.
One is that China is a Communist country which has been unwilling to trade in the reasons for its successful economic and political rise – essentially state direction of investment – for “Western norms” and this must be a bad thing. President Trump complained last year that the direction of investment by the state gave China an unfair advantage in economic development. In other words, it worked better than leaving things to “the market” i.e. decisions made by capitalists in their own interests. In a reverse of Deng Xiao Peng’s dictum “I don’t care whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”, Trump’s solution was not that the US should adopt what is clearly a more effective system, but that China should sabotage itself by allowing the private sector the whip hand, thereby “adopting Western norms” and slowing itself down.
The other is that China is just another capitalist country that can be expected to behave like any other capitalist country and therefore the competition is zero sum and ruthless. Often these mutually contradictory ideas co-exist in the same article.
The paradox here is that China’s approach is what it calls “win, win” and it does not favour either political – let alone military – confrontation nor dividing the world into competing trade blocs which exclude each other’s technology. This is working. The IMF projects that China’s economy will account for just over half of global growth in the next two years, while the USA will account for 3.3% and the EU will shrink slightly. The rest of global growth will come from the rest of the developing world. This is reflected in political votes at the UN, where the USA is no longer in an unchallenged position to strongarm majorities as the growth generated by trade with China gives the rest of the developing world a bit of room for manouvre and self assertion.
The presumption that keeping the UK as a self subordinating permanent auxiliary of the USA – the defining foundation of British foreign policy since Suez – can’t be questioned in this situation, leads to some surreal arguments.
Tobias Ellwood, Conservative Chair of the Commons defence committee, for example, argued that China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and crackdown in Hong Kong were reasons to exclude Huawei under US pressure. Trump’s crackdowns on the Black Lives Matter movement, which have involved 26 deaths (none in HK) seem to have passed him by. As has the US handling of Coronavirus. There have been more deaths in the US than CASES in China. If the Chinese handling of these crises has been so bad in his eyes as to cut technological and commercial links, why does the catastrophic performance of the US get a free pass?
This has, sadly, been cheered on by Lisa Nandy as Shadow Foreign Secretary; who has taken a position in alignment with the Tory hawks voicing US pressure; with an added insular spin calling for “far greater strategic independence from China, which means that we need to have homegrown alternatives for our 5G Network and our nuclear power.” (1)
How these “alternatives” are to be “grown” is not spelled out. The UK has neither the domestic capacity to “grow” it in either of these areas in the time available – even assuming that new nuclear power stations are preferable to investment in genuine renewable energy.
This is a parodic echo of Harold Wilson’s critique of the Tory governments in the early 60’s for cancelling the “home grown” Blue Streak missile and buying into the “Moss Bros deterrent” of the US Polaris system – only to in turn cancel the “home grown” TSR 2 fighter bomber and buy US F111s for the same reason – the UK “alternatives” couldn’t be got to work properly.
The “homegrown” rhetoric is a fantasy to cover a strategic subordination to the US, which is engaged in a new cold war offensive – that, even if their wildest accusations against China were true – and many of them are very wild indeed – is not in our interests.
The bottom line here is that the UK has very little strategic independence from the USA at a time in which the Chinese answers to our fundamental problems
1 Handling the pandemic
2. Sustaining an economic system that allows a hopeful future
3 Working globally to prevent climate breakdown
4 Making sure we avoid a war
are better than those coming from either of the potential US administrations and – for that matter – our own government.
- Guardian p10 6/7/20