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.
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
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