Huawei Officially Barred by the UK From Its 5G Network – the Turnaround Today Is a Victory for the Trump Administration

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Huawei Technologies, the Chinese tech giant at the center of a growing schism between the western powers and Beijing, celebrated when the British government allowed the company limited access to the country’s next-generation 5G wireless network back in January. Well, the tables have turned now as the UK officially barred Huawei today from its high-speed wireless network.

While asserting that the continued presence of Huawei-sourced gear in the nation’s 5G network created an intolerable level of risk, the UK has now officially banned the purchase of telecommunication components from Huawei after December 2020. Moreover, any residual Huawei gear in UK’s 5G network will have to be replaced by 2027. According to the British government, pursuing an accelerated timeline for the removal of the equipment sourced from the Chinese tech giant will create fresh avenues of risk, debilitating the network’s resilience and security. Consequently, today’s directive aims to strike a balance between maintaining the stability of the nation’s next-gen wireless network and hardening it against any potential infiltration by the Chinese state machinery for espionage purposes.

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Today’s move marks a sharp reversal of the policy announced by Britain back in January 2020. At the time, the National Security Council (NSC) of Britain had stipulated that Huawei’s telecommunication gear would not be deployed near sensitive geographical locations such as nuclear sites and military bases. Moreover, the Chinese tech giant would be "limited to a minority presence of no more than 35 percent in the periphery of the network”.

Since that time, however, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced an escalating pressure from Washington to reverse the country’s course on Huawei. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to ratchet up its sanction regimen against the Chinese tech giant. As an illustration, on the 15th of May, the Trump administration angered China by blocking silicon heavyweights around the globe from delivering semiconductor components to Huawei or its affiliate HiSilicon. Under the new regime, foreign semiconductor manufacturers that employ American technology or software will now be required to procure a formal license from the Trump administration before delivering these sensitive components to the Chinese tech giants. However, the Commerce Department did provide a concession by stating that the rule change does not affect the chipsets or wafers already in production at the time the directive was issued and that these components can be delivered to Huawei within 120 days.

Today’s volte-face by Britain indicates a renewed willingness among the Western powers to limit China’s growing clout. Of course, the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has soured the overall sentiment as the Trump administration continues to blame China for failing to effectively curb the initial spread of the virus. Moreover, China’s enactment of a new national security law for Hong Kong has only enflamed tensions with the UK which perceives the move as an assault on the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that paved the way for the return of Hong Kong to Beijing’s control. For its part, China continues to assert that the imposition of a national security law is an internal matter of China. Moreover, Huawei continues to emphasize that it does not aid any espionage activity by the Chinese state.