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Why Europe will follow the US line on not allowing Huawei’s 5G network

  • 12 December 2019
  • Author: QT01
  • Number of views: 1151
Why Europe will follow the US line on not allowing Huawei’s 5G network
With the US and China locked into an increasingly heated rivalry, the Nato meeting recently signalled that America’s European allies are beginning to swing behind the US. 
According to a report published in Financial Times, the key issue to watch here is Huawei, the Chinese telecoms firm, that is bidding to build 5G broadband networks across the world.
The US has blacklisted Huawei, imposing sanctions that prevent the Chinese firm from buying components from America. Senior officials in Donald Trump’s administration are passionate about the surveillance risks posed.
For many months, this superheated American rhetoric made limited progress. Japan, Australia, and New Zealand announced their intention to keep Huawei out. But the US’s European allies did not follow suit.
Despite Washington’s lobbying, Huawei has made considerable progress in signing up international customers for 5G. As a recent article in Nikkei Asian Review points out: “So far, the company has sealed 65 contracts, with almost half coming from European countries.”
But attitudes in Europe are now shifting. Trump lobbied hard at Nato and claimed to have secured an Italian agreement to shut Huawei out. Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, said that Britain would not allow Huawei into its 5G network if that endangers the “five eyes” intelligence-sharing arrangement with the US. This pledge hands the Americans a powerful lever. There are also suggestions in Congress that a UK-US free trade agreement would be endangered if Britain works with Huawei.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has kept the door open for Huawei. But a backlash is underway in the German parliament led by Norbert Röttgen, head of the Bundestag’s foreign-affairs committee. He casts the issue as one of “European sovereignty”.
Faced with this onslaught, the Merkel government is beginning to shift position. In a recent interview, Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economic affairs minister, spoke of the need to promote European suppliers of 5G to compete with Huawei.
The European shift is partly down to American pressure. But many Europeans were already taking a more jaundiced view of China. An important moment came earlier this year when the European Commission issued a paper that described China as a “systemic rival”. 
The EU has belatedly woken up to the fact that China is much more than a large market. It is also an authoritarian state with an increasingly influential presence in Europe. Beijing’s efforts to cultivate 17 European countries through a diplomatic dialogue known as “17+1” has excited suspicion in Brussels, where it is seen as a Chinese effort to buy influence and disrupt EU unity.
European industry is also taking a more sceptical attitude towards China, echoing many American complaints about market access and intellectual property theft.
Industrial policy is also coming back into fashion in Europe, making it easier to argue that 5G is a strategic industry, whose development cannot simply be left to market forces. There are two European companies that can offer 5G technology: Ericsson of Sweden and Nokia of Finland. 
But while the Europeans are now more receptive to American arguments on 5G and wider Chinese issues, actually changing policy poses significant problems. Shunning Huawei in favour of a European solution is likely to lead to a more costly and slower deployment of the technology. Even more dauntingly, Huawei equipment is already embedded in the existing telecoms systems of Britain, Germany and other European nations. Ripping it out would be expensive and disruptive. 
The 5G decision is likely to be the first of many such awkward choices for Europe. For as long as possible, European countries will try to keep both Washington and Beijing happy. But if America’s key allies, such as Britain and Germany, are forced to choose, then values, economics, security and strategy will all point in the same direction. They will have to choose the US over China.
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