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Is Britain’s Huawei Policy Pragmatic or Myopic?

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Authors: Henri Kouam & Sarmad Ishfaq

The U.S.-UK relationship will suffer a blow from the United Kingdom’s recent decision to exclude Huawei from its 5G network. Rather than taking a confrontational approach, China will raise non-tariff barriers and ensure the UK sees less favorable terms in a post-Brexit relationship. The UK should employ a more pragmatic approach that protects user data in order to ensure its companies can continue to benefit from enhanced access to Chinese markets. It must balance its geostrategic relationship in a manner that respects its relationship with the U.S. whilst ensuring a forward-looking vision enables access to prime Chinese that its dominant service sector stands to benefit from.

The United States has taken an aggressive role against Huawei and by extension China – both countries, for years, have been competing with each other economically and otherwise in Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world. The United Kingdom has joined the United States in not only cautioning against Huawei, a Chinese telecom giant, but also moving to ban it from its 5G networks. While this outcome is symptomatic of China’s secrecy following the spread of COVID-19 and state-driven cyber-attacks, it equally suggests Britain’s ire for the developments in Hong Kong. The United Kingdom has officially decided to phase out Huawei equipment by 2027, joining the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. While the EU will ultimately determine the Western verdict on Huawei, it has so far remained cautious, branding China a ‘strategic rival’ and tightening domestic regulation to protect its tech companies whilst encouraging China to liberalize its economy further. 

The decision to exclude Huawei from Britain will slow Huawei’s tech supremacy and global dominance. It will equally affect UK-China relations on trade, diplomatic, and environmental cooperation. While diplomatic outcomes are rather difficult to forecast, the economic relationship will be most adversely affected by recent developments. This article takes a brief look into the UK-Britain trading relationship and draws conclusions that remain cognizant of different structural characteristics in both countries.

UK-Chinese Trade Is an Anchor for Exports Across the Auto Sector, Tourism and Financial Services

China is the UK’s sixth-largest export market, accounting for 4.4% of all UK exports while imports from China represent 6.8% of total imports. This might seem marginal, of course, but the breakdown of traded goods and services suggests greater linkages between both economies. For example, the UK is a service-driven economy, which means its financial service sector, business consultancy, and even renewable energy stand to benefit from enhanced Chinese market access. The UK holds a current account deficit with China and its surplus in services trade is marginal and will likely fall as China seeks to retaliate following UK’s security-induced decision to oust Huawei from its 5G networks.

Britain’s Decision to Oust Huawei Is Less Rooted in Security and More in Ideology

At first, Britain’s decision to oust Huawei from its network seems prudent, but this is not entirely true as Britain outlined fundamental flaws in Huawei gear. However, this by no means provides sufficient grounding for its decision to exclude Huawei from their communication networks. Even so, Britain was always going to acquiesce to the United States and the Hong Kong Security Law, and the complete reneging of the Joint Declaration signed in 1984 irked Britain further. At the risk of seeming unable to impose sanctions like the U.S., it chose to reduce Huawei’s continued market access and attempts to blunt China’s global ascent in the process.

However, the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with China hinges on its treatment of Huawei and continued market access. China will not directly target UK companies at first, but it will ensure that Britain’s tech sector has little, if any access, to its markets. China is already opening new Huawei factories in France and visits by President Macron last year show the EU is continuing to improve its ties with the country even as it brands it a ‘strategic rival’.

The UK’s Room to Maneuver Is Limited and Any Challenge to the U.S. May Prove Futile

Additionally, the majority of UK trade occurs with Western economies, such as Germany and France, the majority of whom are not particularly thrilled at the idea of Brexit. China might capitalize on the UK’s exit to ensure that it becomes increasingly beholden to the United States; this might not pose a problem in the short-run, but the United States’ approach to diplomacy has become increasingly linked to economic supremacy. Any divergence on issues ranging from the Middle East to global health and economic policy could prove futile for Britain, further blunting its post-Brexit geopolitical ascent. A divergence in objectives by both countries is not imminent.

In his hearing with the House of Lords as foreign secretary, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK remained committed to supporting US positions in the Middle East. A pragmatic Britain should seek to use its soft-power to create a steady market for its service sector, employ a targeted approach to counter the adoption of Chinese technology across Africa and Asia, whilst using its receding influence in the U.N. security council to ensure it achieves its goals amidst the U.S.-China rivalry. The Uighurs are evidence of China’s blatant disregard of human rights and while Britain is less adept at using international institutions to thwart China’s activities, it can nonetheless serve as an anchor to the U.S. decisions over the long-run.

This is vital as the U.S. legitimacy on the global stage appears to be waning due to nationalist-driven and inward policies that seek to maintain its role as a global leader. The UK is obviously caught between a rock and a hard place; over 65% of the economy is driven by the service sector according to the Office for National Statistics. As such, while the U.S. is a stable market for its goods and services, the financial sector is bloated and crowded, whilst U.S. regulation is too opaque for start-ups seeking to cross the aisle. Furthermore, China’s need for advanced technologies amidst its geopolitical rivalry with the United States could have created a credible market for UK tech start-ups in driverless cars as well as grid management and renewable energy.

There is no shortage of companies that could benefit from additional Chinese market access — think Acceleron, Gravitricity, BBox, and Upside Energy, among others. The UK’s need to show solidarity will cost it greater competitiveness, inevitably accruing to companies that have to compete with subsidized Chinese companies. Rather than impeding trade by siding with the U.S., the UK would have been better off playing a more pragmatic diplomatic game, allowing Huawei to operate in the fringe parts of its network and ensure its counter-intelligence and the designated company in Oxford to verify Huawei’s software. 

The Huawei Tensions Could Be Politicized in Scotland If China’s Economic Retaliation Disrupts Economic Activity

Finally, the impact of trade with China will transcend regional borders and could exacerbate tensions in the UK, as calls for a Scottish referendum grow increasingly justified amidst political responses that seek to support US positions over UK export-linked jobs. As illustrated in figure 3, Scotland is most exposed to the waning UK-China trade relationship, and it equally wants to remain part of the EU. While the decision by the current UK administration might be justified, it suggests that the UK is unable to verify Huawei technology, despite ranking higher than China in innovation rankings. 

One can, therefore, see such an outcome as evidence of stronger US-UK ties or the inability of the former to police Chinese technology in a manner that facilitates trade between both economies amidst ideological differences. Trade flow dynamics suggest that the UK stands to benefit more from trade with China over the long-run, as its innovative goods and financial service stand to benefit from an increasingly technologically-driven and innovation-centric China. It is not clear whether the U.S. will give the UK a favorable deal even if a democrat were to win the coming elections.

As the U.S reneges its role as a global leader and latches on to the advantages conferred on it by a ubiquitous dollar and dominant clearing system, it is not evident that the UK will become increasingly linked to U.S.’s anti-China stance. Under such a scenario, it is more challenging to see a forward-looking relationship emerge amongst both countries, similar to that of the EU. In 2019, the UK joined the United States for freedom of navigation request in the Strait of Hormuz, after tensions rose following the Trump administration’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

This showed a marked divergence with Europe, which instead choose to implement a special purpose vehicle that was designed to ensure Iran continued to enjoy the benefits that were conferred on it by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As ties between Iran and China have warmed, the UK’s decision was in direct contravention to its geostrategic ambitions in the Middle East, and the recent decision on Huawei shows even further divergence to that regard. The UK’s decision to shun Huawei suggests that it has chosen to ensure continued U.S. supremacy, even as concerns around privacy are justified.

These concerns have not changed from two years ago, but the UK decision, whilst justified, appears economically counterproductive and could impede a post-Brexit relationship that would possibly improve market access for UK companies in China. Furthermore, China might design domestic legislation or employ other forms of non-tariff barriers to target U.K. companies that seek to enter their markets. A post-Brexit relationship was always going to cause consternation across the globe, but balancing diplomacy, historically-entrenched relationships, and a forward-looking economic partnership was also going to be complicated for the Johnson government whose bandwidth appears limited. 

To compensate for its loss of market in the U.K. and U.S., China could leverage its relationship with countries like Pakistan, Iran, and others (especially those who are a part of the Belt & Road Initiative – BRI). China and Huawei, for example, could further penetrate the Pakistani smartphone market due to Pakistan being home to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – the star project of the BRI – as well as Pakistan being one of the most populated countries in the world. China will also retaliate by targeting sectors other than technology as Britain appears to side with the U.S. at a time when China’s influence in Asia and Africa is rising. As Britain continues to grapple with Brexit and an incoherent global strategy, China’s debt-driven development agenda in Africa is gaining traction; it is also leading 4 of the 15 U.N. specialized agencies. China will ensure Britain’s service sector comes under strain by increasing administrative bottlenecks even as they liberalize their markets and continue to open up to the global economy. As such, fewer British firms will have access to IPOs, legal work, software, etcetera as China prioritizes the EU and non-EU countries in its globalization strategy.

This will not have immediate implications for Britain over the near term, but it almost certainly will over the long-run. Britain’s decision to oust Huawei from its networks was premature and shows a lack of tech leadership, since this was an opportunity for Britain to ensure that the Chinese-based company improves its software whilst designing repellent technology, and localize data in an attempt to reduce the risks linked to data misuse. Rather than acquiesce to the U.S., Britain must prioritize its role as a global leader and balance the ideological rifts between the U.S., its largest trading partner, and China.

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Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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