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Tue, 7 July 2020

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As China expands its authoritarian military influence across the world, the West must face up to a new Sputnik moment

As China expands its authoritarian military influence across the world, the West must face up to a new Sputnik moment

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4 min read

Beijing is deliberately shunning international accountability and rules, and now the UK needs to face up to the serious questions about Huawei, 5G and our security

Many Parliamentarians are recalibrating our views on China, and not a moment too soon.

Its conduct throughout this pandemic, from initial efforts to hide the outbreak to rejecting any independent investigation, has exposed a reckless agenda we can no longer ignore. After the painful experience of the Cold War, there were great hopes that China, with its one-party state, would evolve into a responsible global citizen that embraced the hard-fought principles of liberty and open trade.

Today we must concede the Chinese Communist Party has something very different in mind. While increasing its economic power, Beijing is deliberately shunning international accountability and rules. It yearns for superpower status, but it avoids any sense of duty to uphold core values of freedom, democracy and rule of law, knowing its own conduct repudiates those values.

The Communist Party’s authoritarian grip on its own population through state surveillance and draconian laws can no longer be ignored as a domestic matter. China is actively expanding its authoritarian military, economic, and technological influence to ensnare countries into its web of control. 

China’s colossal investment in its military has given it the confidence to pursue territorial expansion in the South China Sea and disputed areas of the Sino-Indian border it has coveted for decades. President Xi makes no effort to conceal his plans to reunify with Taiwan, using violence if necessary. China’s belt and road initiative has proved to be a project in debt trap diplomacy – locking countries into large scale infra-structure and energy projects which are agreed and built without honouring international best practices, and which many can ill afford leading to significant political concessions.

This initiative is mimicked by the conditional promotion of “soft power” tech solutions across the world. It has ridden the bow-wave of tech change to procure many of the world leading tech giants such as Tencent, Alibaba and China Mobile that make some of their Western equivalents look like start-ups. All are state controlled, but the political strings attached to their products and services are overshadowed by their low prices.

The Huawei issue will be settled on the floor of the House. So it is critical all parliamentarians are familiar with the technical and wider political issues at hand

It’s with this backdrop that we now debate the participation of Huawei into our own 5G telecoms system. As we become ever more reliant to data movement, Britain rightly wants to remain globally competitive. 5G will give rise to automation that will fundamentally change how we live, work and travel. That feeling of isolation experienced when you lose your mobile, will be nothing compared to even a temporary malfunction of our critical national infrastructure. US and Australia have already banned Huawei as a high-risk vendor and want us to do the same. In practice this is not so simple. There are presently six capable vendors globally: Ericsson (Sweden), Nokia (Finland), NEC (Japan), Samsung (South Korea), ZTE (China) and Huawei (China). In Britain BT and EE are supported by Nokia and Huawei, Vodafone by Ericson and Huawei, 02 by Nokia and Ericsson and Three by Huawei and Nokia. 

Despite the National Cyber Security Centre’s close monitoring of Huawei through its Security Evaluation Centre the Government’s position changed earlier this year when Huawei was limited to non-core aspects of 5G with UK operators now instructed to cap Huawei at 35% by 2023.”

So, where will this debate lead? There is every expectation Huawei’s future will be decided on the floor of the House. So, it is critical all parliamentarians are familiar with the detailed technical and wider political issues at hand – hence the Defence Select Committee’s Inquiry which we hope will be of some assistance. 

Without pre-empting our findings, we face some serious short-term and long-term questions. If we choose to remove Huawei what is an affordable timetable? Should we be developing a new UK based or joint UK/US 5G network architecture? And more widely how does the West stand respond to the rise of China? 

The US often refer to their Sputnik moment, when in 1957 the Soviets launched the world’s first satellite tasked to spy on the US. It invigorated America to stand up to Russia and redouble its efforts win the space race. 

Our debate over Huawei should be another Sputnik moment when we begin to appreciate the intentions of a new super-power which is rapidly advancing its dominance offering a competing vision which if left unchecked, could lead to another cold war and the emergence of a dangerous bi-polar world.

 

Tobias Ellwood is Conservative MP for Bournemouth East and chair of the Defence Committee 

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