When news broke Friday morning that Britain is looking to propose an alliance of democracies to build a 5G alternative to Huawei, you might think that that was the worst thing to happen to the controversial Chinese telecoms giant this week. In fact, it just caps off a series of fast-moving events that surely makes this one of the most decisive weeks yet in the global fight over next-generation 5G networks.
So let’s go back a step. After all, readers who have been following the Huawei debate might recall that not long ago the UK had controversially agreed to allow Huawei to attain up to 35% market share in “non-core areas” of its 5G network. So what was behind London’s sudden about-face?
The answer is politics. There was always a loud group of China-skeptic dissenters in Parliament, but anger over China’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic pushed more MPs from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative Party into the anti-Huawei camp and made the government’s position untenable. Rather than face a large parliamentary rebellion and possible legislative defeat later this year, Johnson instead gave in and announced plans earlier this week to phase out Huawei’s participation in Britain’s 5G network by 2023.