Foreign allies hope for ‘less noise,’ more practical solutions.
Huawei's problems in Western capitals around the world may deepen under U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to replace Donald Trump's combative diplomacy against the Chinese telecom giant with a more united international effort to keep Beijing from dominating the internet.
Insiders at Huawei cautiously welcomed Biden's victory in the Nov. 3 election, but lawmakers and industry executives on both sides of the Atlantic expect the campaign against the company to continue with bipartisan support in Washington — and new restrictions from allied governments. They also foresee Biden maintaining or even extending the Trump-driven pressure campaign that has crippled Huawei, strained the global telecom sector and dragged others from software giants to chipmakers into the fight.
Biden is likely to bring “less noise and more content,” said Viviane Reding, former European commissioner for justice who has emerged as a strong critic of Trump’s demands for bans on Huawei in Europe.
That could pave the way for officials in Europe, the U.K., Canada and across the West to strengthen their own efforts against Huawei, the world’s dominant provider of 5G technology.
“I hope and expect the Biden administration will show genuine interest in working with allies to create alternatives. If they do that, they will find a bunch of willing and enthusiastic and relieved partners,” said Ciaran Martin, former British cybersecurity chief who designed the U.K.’s recent Huawei ban and now teaches at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School.
He compared Trump’s approach to a game of “whack-a-mole on individual Chinese companies” and said “other countries are looking for U.S. leadership, not on further sanctions against Chinese companies, but on creating alternatives to them.”
That kind of coalition means Biden could succeed where Trump didn’t: In building a global coalition of democracies that could join forces politically and on industrial terms to counter China's rise on tech.
European officials are already working to set up structures to embrace the expected Biden approach. On Monday, European Union officials proposed countering China by creating a "Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council" to set joint standards with the U.S. on new technologies.
While Biden has not detailed a specific Huawei strategy, he has said he will put global cooperation at the center of efforts to counter China’s tech offensive: "To win the competition for the future against China or anyone else, the United States must sharpen its innovative edge and unite the economic might of democracies around the world," Biden wrote in a piece outlining his foreign policy in Foreign Affairs in March. He said the U.S. needs to “get tough” to counter intellectual property theft and state subsidies that give China an “unfair advantage.”
“The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners,” Biden wrote.
Tony Blinken, Biden’s choice for leading the State Department, told Reuters this summer that Biden would seek to use NATO to address Chinese threats to global security, which could include Huawei’s attempts at making 5G inroads in Europe.
Or, as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said last week: “America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back.”
“Violent.” ‘Erratic.” “Extremely aggressive.” That’s how lawmakers and industry officials characterized the Trump campaign against the Chinese firm, which was heavy on coercion and light on diplomacy.
In Europe, U.S. threats to cut back intelligence sharing to countries that failed to ban Huawei raised eyebrows. Industry experts were baffled by U.S. officials’ claims that “someone from the Politburo in Beijing” could “run a certain car off the road” with a phone call to a Chinese firm.
Under Mike Pompeo, the U.S. State Department “kicked out diplomatic protocol and norms,” according to a European industry official, who requested not to be named to discuss a sensitive diplomatic issue.
Trump’s State Department reached out directly to chief executives and companies based in the EU. “Many saw this as unusual, since companies operate under the jurisdiction of their countries,” the official added.
U.S. security officials also struggled to strike a chord with technical experts in partner countries.
“The strategy was very haphazard. Policymakers and technocrats had no real sense of why they were going for particular companies in a particular way and what their objective was,” Martin said.
Blurring together trade and security objectives, Washington's approach generated widespread skepticism.
“President Trump’s erratic approach to the threats posed by Huawei and other suspect foreign actors left some questioning whether those threats were even real,” House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said in a statement.
The global effect of Trump’s style, according to Pallone, was to “sow doubt and confusion among our partners and allies.” He expects a steadier approach under Biden, with many in Congress ready to partner with the new administration, will be more effective.
Allies long for friendlier tone
If Biden wants to succeed in bringing back multilateral cooperation, he will have relationships to smooth out.
In Canada, government insiders anticipate a friendlier stance from Biden, who is politically close to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But several people inside the Trudeau government say they are not assuming that a Biden White House will make substantive changes in U.S. demands on Canada regarding Huawei.
The Huawei issue has wedged Canada in a power struggle between the U.S., by far its top trading partner and ally, and its second-biggest trading partner, China. Washington under Trump did not hold back from warning Ottawa that it could be cut off from intelligence sharing among fellow Five Eyes partners if it failed to crack down on the Chinese vendor. It’s unclear if that policy would change.
In Europe the Trump approach won over security officials but ruffled trade officials, diplomats and the telecom sector at large. And some slights may not be easily brushed aside.
In Germany’s case, former U.S. ambassador and Trump confidant Richard Grenell repeatedly offended Germany’s foreign policy establishment with threats to cut back intelligence sharing and angry reactions at German criticism of U.S. surveillance practices. The friction were early signs of Trump’s struggle to get Berlin on board in its war on Huawei that continues today.
Rob Strayer, a former State Department official who spearheaded Trump’s Huawei campaign and now works at tech industry association ITI, argued that “the coalition-building will be not all that different” under Biden. But, he added that Biden’s focus would be on working through more formal structures like the G20, G7 or the World Trade Organization and include “the softer form of multilateralism of building a coalition of the like-minded.”
U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the difference will be deeper than a shift in tone. The Trump administration “flouted multilateralism” and even “worked to spurn our closest allies” he said in a statement. Biden “will understand these issues,” he added.
Biden has emphasized U.S.’ and allies’ strengths in research and innovation and his long-term plan to push back on — rather than indulge — protectionist tendencies.
U.S. roadblocks for Huawei expected to stay
Under Trump, the U.S. imposed measures to slow down Huawei, including domestic restrictions, crippling export controls and sanctions on its supply chain. The U.S. State Department also pressured allied countries to impose all-out bans, with varying success.
Those measures are largely expected to remain in place once Biden is in office.
“Huawei may become a bit less of a lightning rod, given the shift in the wider debate on transatlantic cooperation on tech, but [the company] will still need to live with the decisions that’ve been taken, in particular over recent months,” said Julian King, former European Union Security Commissioner who led Europe’s effort to impose joint measures to reduce dependency on Huawei. For example, governments in Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Poland and elsewhere all drafted new laws this year to reduce their industries’ dependency on Chinese equipment.
In the U.S., Congress is also likely to keep up pressure on Huawei. In past years, U.S. lawmakers have passed legislation that boxes in Huawei in the U.S. and around the globe, including a 2018 law that banned federal agencies from doing business with Huawei or companies that use its products. In 2019, Congress made it more difficult for the Commerce Department to ease sanctions on Huawei, requiring the agency to first certify to Congress that any risks to security and trade theft have been resolved.
Steve Berry, who heads a trade group of U.S. rural wireless carriers known as the Competitive Carriers Association and discussed these issues with Biden transition team members last week, expects “no major change” in how the U.S. assesses the dangers of Chinese gear, he said.
“I have not heard of anyone advising or coming into the new administration to date — and least of all the transition team we met with — who were opposed to the concept that the Chinese telecommunications equipment creates a real national security threat,” Berry said. Berry is seeking to secure more than $1.5 billion from U.S. lawmakers now for a subsidy program to help a few dozen rural carriers in the U.S. rid their networks of equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecom company network equipment, a bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill and one he stressed to Biden’s team.
There are also a number of China hawks in the Senate who could push Biden’s cabinet nominees to take a strong stance on Huawei.
Senator Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.), a frequent Huawei critic, last week called Biden’s early cabinet picks “polite and orderly caretakers of America’s decline” in a tweet, adding “I have no interest in returning to the ‘normal’ that left us dependent on China.”
Decisions made and decisions to make
Many U.S. allies have already taken their stance on Huawei. Trump's campaign pushed close allies like Australia and Japan to ban Huawei early on. Others including the U.K. and France have followed suit more recently. Other European governments opted for a middle approach to allow Chinese equipment in some parts of networks.
In the U.K., the position is unlikely to change under Biden, Martin said. Under his leadership, the National Cyber Security Centre decided that U.S. sanctions had disrupted Huawei’s supply chains to the point where it was too risky to use its equipment. He said even if Biden were to roll back sanctions, the possibility that they could be reinstated would loom. “What’s the point of chopping and changing all the time now that we know that Huawei’s involvement can be crippled by U.S. sanctions?” Martin said.
And European operators planning the rollout of 5G didn’t signal that the U.S. election would affect their long-term strategies to move away from Huawei tech. Telecom providers across the West in the past year flocked toward vendors Ericsson and Nokia, two European competitors to China’s Huawei and ZTE that remain outside of regulators’ crosshairs.
“There has been a huge shift in the past years,” said the unnamed European industry official. “Many European telecom operators agreed that it is not good to be seen working with Huawei. So I don't expect that to change radically.”
But there’s another group of countries — including most notably Canada, Germany and Spain — that have yet to decide how much to restrain Huawei, and which could be a key test of a less combative U.S. approach. If Biden decides to exert less pressure on these countries, it could leave them more wiggle room with how severe they make their restrictions.
In Canada, Trudeau’s government has been conducting a national security review of 5G, which includes an analysis of Huawei, for more than two years — making the country the last member of the Five Eyes alliance to announce whether it will ban Huawei.
Canada’s decision on Huawei’s fate is “coming soon,” a senior government official said last week, adding that the advice from security authorities had yet to reach the Trudeau cabinet’s door and that the delay should in no way be connected to Ottawa waiting for the U.S. election outcome.
And Huawei could still win over lawmakers in key capitals like Berlin and Madrid.
A recent German draft law seen by local paper Handelsblatt showed lawmakers would allow Huawei access but require it to abide by stricter rules and pledge it wouldn't assist foreign intelligence services. In Spain, the government has signaled it wants Huawei to be able to provide gear for 5G networks and has held off on introducing new legal restrictions.
In France, meanwhile, the Chinese firm also faces an outstanding battle in getting approval for a manufacturing plant in Strasbourg that it announced earlier this year.
Huawei is hopeful the Biden administration will be more receptive than its predecessor to engaging with the company and will push for global security standards rather than penalize specific equipment makers, according to people familiar with the company's thinking.
Internet or splinternet?
In China itself, the Trump administration triggered what experts have dubbed a “Sputnik moment.”
“It’s now a matter of national security for China to strengthen every major technological capability,” Dan Wang of research firm Gavekal Dragonomics wrote in January. “The strategic solution to Chinese problems cannot be more straightforward: replicate American products, or at least find alternative vendors,” he added.
For Biden’s incoming administration, the challenge will be to build actual consensus in the West on how to handle China’s technological rise — without alienating foreign governments with a long list of tech-related issues they want the Biden administration to take on.
Already, government officials have flagged a long list of items to address in order to revamp the transatlantic relationship in tech, including how countries tax global tech companies, rules around artificial intelligence, privacy protections and how data flows across borders.
In Europe, that could mean revisiting the prospect — favored by Trump’s most ardent China hawks — of a “decoupled” tech sector that doesn’t rely on Chinese partners at all. Across the EU bloc, lawmakers are still weighing the benefits of economic entanglement with China with its risks.
“A completely confrontational approach with China was not winning over attitudes in Europe,” said King. Trump's so-called Clean Network strategy "was fundamentally rooted in a bifurcated future in which — all the way through, from supply chains and infrastructure to data — you were going to have a world in which it was China [on the one side] and the rest [on the other]. That caused concerns in different parts of Europe,” the former commissioner said.
It’s a lot for Biden and allied countries to reconcile as they push back against Chinese technology giants like Huawei.
“You are talking about a fairly unprecedented alignment of like-minded countries, acting not just in governmental terms but also in private sector terms, cooperating in ways that they haven’t ever done. It’s a big, big task,” Martin said.
Steven Overly contributed to this report.
Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/02/joe-biden-huawei-442162