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July 15, 2020
For all its previous belligerent posturing, the Chinese Communist Party has been uncharacteristically reserved in response to the UK Huawei ban.
The decision to ban sales of Huawei networking gear from next year and totally eradicate it from UK networks by 2028 (not 2027, WSJ and BBC) is surely viewed as an overt slap in the face by the CCP. However, the UK managed to pull together a surprisingly coherent rationale for changing its mind, which avoided any specific reference to Chinese politics and pinned all the blame on the US, so the CCP had little to directly react to.
Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is the unchallenged ruler of the Chinese state, but he rarely makes public pronouncements of his own, preferring to shield himself via proxies. So its is through them that we can gauge his mood on this. The obvious place to start is with Liu Xiaoming, China’s Ambassador to the UK, who had the nerve to criticize the UK for discriminating against foreign-owned companies.
Ed Brewster, who us hacks have known for years as Huawei’s PR dude in the UK, was promoted to take one for the team by becoming the official spokesperson for this matter. This involved being put in front of one of the BBC’s most pugnacious interviewers last night where, it has to be said, he handled himself well. Brewster’s main angle is that this decision is all about US interests, which has some merit.
Moving on to the Chinese press, which precisely echoes the party line if it knows what’s good for it, the main theme is that the UK is shooting itself in the foot. The direct reporting mostly focused on Huawei’s response, rather than that of the CCP, implying the latter doesn’t have a formal public position yet. That angle was reinforced by an interview with CCS Insights analyst Kester Mann.
The approved opinion followed similar lines, with the headline Huawei ban wrong, harmful choice for Britain. It goes on to make the tried and tested points about Huawei being no more beholden to its national government than Ericsson or Nokia are, but then it would. It mentioned the recent moaning by UK operators about a Huawei ban, but somehow overlooked the statement from BT that yesterday’s decision presents no additional cost implications for it.
On the other hand, Vodafone’s response was a bit more sulky. “Vodafone is studying today’s announcement by the UK government,” said a Vodafone spokesperson. “We acknowledge the government’s understanding of the complexity of this issue and the desire to minimise disruption to consumers, businesses and public services through an adequate timeframe for implementation.
“Obviously we are disappointed because this decision – as the government has highlighted today – will add delay to the roll out of 5G in the UK and will result in additional costs for the industry. We will work with the government to address the implications of this decision, including the cost and the need to increase vendor diversity through OpenRAN.”
Global Times, which we understand is a more overtly nationalist tabloid publication, lived up to that reputation with a much more confrontational stance. There’s no English-language version of the Global Times, so we’re once more indebted to our China correspondent for this translation of the final two paragraphs of the piece.
China should retaliate against the UK, otherwise we would be seen as an easy bully target. Such retaliation should be done in public and should inflict pain on the UK, but should not necessarily amount to a tsunami of Sino-British confrontation. The UK is not the US, or Australia, or Canada. It is a relative “weak link” in Five Eyes. To look at longer term, when the HK problem dies down, there’s no reason that UK would want to remain China’s adversary.
The development of China’s telecoms technologies should accelerate, and we should achieve breakthroughs in those bottlenecks. This is the foundation. Many countries may sway under American pressure, hesitating between China and the US. The most effective way China can influence them is by increasing our strength and attractiveness, nothing else.
For all the scornful talk of this being a political decision, the Chinese state seems to feel political retaliation is also justified. On the other hand it seems keen not to over-react and burn its bridges with the UK, which stands in contrast to its overt threats over Hong Kong. If the UK government has managed to placate both the US and its own operators, while minimising its antagonism of China, then it looks like it has played a blinder.
As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno
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