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Huawei Ban by the United Kingdom: Is it the new Cuban Missile Crisis?

The rising tension between the United States and China has managed to raise a few eyebrows. Experts of the field brought to the fore their concern regarding the beginning of a possible “new cold war” that may be largely concerned with the technical arena. The COVID-19 crisis has brought down serious devastation to the world and this situation when compared to the disastrous possibilities that this conflict carry is just about negligible exclaimed several scholars. A layman’s view of the situation would presumably term the ongoing dispute as one that is very similar to the Cold War of 1945. However, even several experts of the field have termed this conflict to be one similar to the Cold War that haunts people around the globe even to this day. An influential economist and Colombia University professor, Jeffrey Sachs, explained the BBC that the deepening of the ‘Cold War’ between the two nations will pose as a bigger worry post the pandemic.  The Economist informed BBC that “the world is headed for a period of “massive disruption without any leadership in the aftermath of the pandemic as the divide between the two superpowers will exacerbate this.” Moreover, BBC has put in writing that the pertaining issues amongst these two nations are “bigger global threat than a virus.”

The worsening relationship between the two countries was sped up by an emergent (technical) issue concerning the declaration of the UK to ban Huawei. Will this turn out to be “the Cuban Missile crisis” of 2020? The answer might not be that simple. The most important distinction that might refute such a claim is that the crisis of 1962 resulted due to deployment of ‘Soviet ballistic missile in Cuba’ that was considered by the United States (US) as a threat. This confrontation is often considered by History as the turning point of the Cold War as this issue might have transitioned into a full-scale nuclear war; whereas the present conflict between the USA and China is a technological one and has nothing to do with warfare. Nevertheless, we know very well that the control of technology is of utmost importance in this modernized world. A nation that manages to do this, in all likelihood, will be the one emerging as an all-powerful and dominant nation dictating the world order and at the same time upsetting the “status-quo.” In this sense, a rough comparison can be drawn between the two crises. Moreover, the sanctions imposed on Huawei have been a result of the rising fears regarding Chinese tech companies spying and promoting global espionage. In response to the sanctions, China said that it would soon impose its sanctions on the US-based defence contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp. regarding their missile sales in Taiwan. These moves provide a glimpse to the rapidly deteriorating situation and how quickly it might take a turn for something cataclysmic.

The limited role assigned to the Chinese company, Huawei, with regards to the creation of 5G infrastructure in the United Kingdom (UK) was put to a stop with the country’s declaration regarding the ban of the company in the UK. Digital and Culture Minister of UK Oliver Dowden claimed to several news outlets that the imposed sanctions by the United States may have “significantly changed” the outlook of the company. “Given the uncertainty, this creates around Huawei’s supply chain, the UK can no longer be confident it will be able to guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment,” said the Minister. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that “the tide is turning against Huawei as citizens around the world are waking up to the danger of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state.” The decision that might seem to be a big win for the “Trump administration which has been pushing allies to exclude Huawei from their 5G networks, arguing that the Chinese company is a threat to national security” stated the news outlet, CNN; the United Kingdom might also risk retaliation from the Chinese government which might not be productive as after Brexit, Britain is going to look around for new trading opportunities.  

The review by the nation’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the impact of the sanctions issued by the United States resulted in this ban. Furthermore, the government has ensured that Huawei is removed completely from the UK’s 5G network established by the end of 2027. It has also ensured that no 5G kit by the company is available in the market for purchase by December 31, 2020. Dowden also made it clear that there was a need to implement a bill regarding Telecom security to implement a “tough new” framework in regards to telecommunications. According to DCMS, this will allow the government to control the “high-risk vendors.” The government made clear that the move has been sole to strengthen national security and is not targeting “one company, one country, or one threat.” The Times of India stated that in response to the ban, the company made clear that “its future in the UK has been politicized.” The company has stated that this not about the security concerns of the nation, but about “United States trade policy.” Several analysts opined that the decision of the United Kingdom came as a shock to the company as it hoped that it would not be influenced by the decisions of the United States government. However, as the Chinese government implemented a “controversial national security law in the former British colony,” indignation against Beijing made the UK “opt against Huawei.”

The decision to ban the Chinese telecommunication giant was termed by Beijing on July 15 as “America’s dupe.” Moreover, it vowed to take steps to protect the interests of Chinese companies. The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made clear “China will fully and solemnly assess this matter, and will take a series of necessary measures to safeguard Chinese companies’ legitimate rights and interests.” Hua said, “Any decisions and actions (by Britain) must come at a cost.”          The spokeswoman of the foreign ministry claimed London “(acted) in coordination with the US to discriminate against, suppress and eliminate” Huawei, and accused the nation of “America’s dupe.” Along with this, Beijing made it clear that Britain most probably would face “repercussions for the move,” and announced that Chinese companies should think twice before investing in the UK. “This is an issue that seriously threatens the security of Chinese investment in the UK, and is also a question of whether we can trust the UK market to remain open, fair and free from discrimination,” said Hua. “We have also reminded all Chinese enterprises to attach great importance to the increasing political security risks they face when conducting business in the UK.”

CNA, a news outlet, explained that the United States government “requested the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on fraud charges, worsening relations between China and Canada, where she is currently under house arrest.” Such pieces of news reports show that the walls of China-USA conflicts are no more impermeable; it involves other countries as well no matter if it wants to take a side or not. The issue regarding Huawei highlights how it is emerging as an extremely significant determinant of the ongoing geopolitical war. The crisis back in 1962 ended as a result of much deliberation and a few compromises from the countries that decided to go toe to toe, indirectly. Such steps were taken to prevent an ill-fated future and catastrophic conditions that would not have been handled easily by any nation. Proper research in this arena may reveal more information regarding this speculation and how it can be averted, but such preventive measures are the need of the hour even today. Although analysts around the globe might have different takes on who is to be blamed for the hostilities, it is time that each nation, no matter their position or standing, introspect and retrospect as to stop this war once and for all. The result of this “new cold war,” no matter how different it is from the previous one, could be fatal and too costly to bear irrespective of how big economy a country has.

                                                                                                                  Sagarika Mukhopadhyay

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