It would appear that George Osbourne’s vision of a “golden decade” in Sino-British relations has prematurely ended.
Britain has made its mind up on Huawei. Over fears of security, mobile providers are being banned from buying new Huawei 5G equipment after 31 December. They must also remove all the Chinese firm’s 5G kit from their networks by 2027.
The U-turn had been expected. Not long after Boris Johnson made the decision to limit Huawei’s role in 5G infrastructure to just 35%, he faced backlash from former intelligence chiefs, his own party and the US President.
Whitehall sources have claimed that the US sanctions on Huawei were a “gamechanger” and played a key role in reversing the initial decision. Just another reminder of the political sway that the Trump administration holds on both sides of the Atlantic.
China has previously warned that the UK will face serious consequences for any reversal on Huawei and immigration assistance to the people of Hong Kong. As vague and ominous as the threats have been, many, including British telecoms companies, have stressed the importance of Eastern investment to build Boris Johnson’s vision of a tech-efficient Britain.
Extracting Huawei will not be easy. UK operators BT, Vodafone and Three have significant amounts of kit in their 4G networks. Huawei is sole supplier to Three. Switching suppliers at speed to build 5G will be tough – maybe even impossible.
Many point to Britain’s struggling economy, weakened by the prolonged coronavirus lockdown and the uncertainties of Brexit, and ask whether the country can afford to reject Chinese investment in infrastructure.
With China and Europe behind us, the decision leaves us even more intrinsically linked with the White House.