With Prof Peter Varnish OBE, Macdonald Laurier Institute, September 2021
The international environment is increasingly insecure. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, China and Russia are attempting to reshape the international system and constrain the liberal democratic West. State competition is changing, in a shift towards deniable, intrusive, and non-military threats against all sectors of society and, as a result, liberal democracies are increasingly looking for collective ways to respond. To meet this growing global challenge, Canada could do much more with the historic Five Eyes grouping that also includes the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
The Five Eyes began primarily as an intelligence-sharing and technology collaboration arrangement. But in a new joint publication between the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, authors John Hemmings and Peter Varnish argue that the Five Eyes grouping could be used by Canada and others to expand the ability to counter and deter China and Russia across multiple areas, including technology, information, military, and economics.
According to the report, titled “Evolving the Five Eyes: Opportunities and Challenges in the New Strategic Landscape,” the Five Eyes has many advantages, from its proven history of creating effective personal relationships across all five countries to its ad hoc, fluid informality which makes it an ideal vehicle for expanded security cooperation. The countries share a common language, democratic traditions and legal systems and they have largely compatible militaries and security practices.
The dramatic images of the Fall of Kabul have driven rounds of recrimination and finger-pointing in the West. However, as the G7 countries prepare to meet virtually next week for an emergency discussion on Afghanistan, it would do well for them to consider the position of another of the region’s great powers – the People’s Republic of China (PRC). While the PRC’s state-owned media have already leapt on the event as ‘humiliating’ for the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US), and attempted to draw lessons for Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party from the ‘abandonment’, it is also beginning to frame the event as something which will require a ‘deal’ with the US, a potential bargaining chip to reshape its current adversarial relationship with Washington without having to address US concerns or complaints.
The G7 need not take this Chinese ‘discursive statecraft’ at face-value. It is indeed natural for the PRC to dress up its efforts to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan as a favour to the West, but American, British, and other allied leaders should understand the PRC’s equities in the country clearly. While the Chinese leadership itself has not yet decided whether to manage this crisis with or against the West, its own interests in the war-torn country are well-documented. G7 leaders should instead use the following baseline assumptions as they think through any attempts at a Chinese-Western settlement.
The PRC has a strong interest in a stable border region: Preventing further unrest in the quasi-colonial territory of Xinjiang is a core interest for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as its gross violations of human rights there reveal. Given the fact that Afghanistan and Xinjiang share a border and the fact that the Taliban has maintained links with various international Islamic groups in the past, this is a serious concern. Over the past few years, Chinese intelligence networks inside Afghanistan and Chinese-Taliban diplomacy in Tianjin have spearheaded the effort to detach the Taliban from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement – a group with which it naturally aligns. In his meeting with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Wang Yi, the PRC Foreign Minister, called for the Taliban to ‘completely sever all ties’ with the group.
The PRC has a strong interest in Afghanistan as a source of minerals: Afghanistan is the world’s largest unexploited reserves of copper, coal, cobalt, mercury, gold, and lithium, valued at US$1 trillion. Its rare-earth metals may be worth even more. In addition to owning the mining rights to the world’s second largest copper mine in Afghanistan – said to be worth US$1.2 billion in annual output – the PRC is already the Taliban’s largest customer for minerals, a trade that now represents the group’s largest revenue source (US$464 million), outstripping narcotics (US$416 million). This also represents a large chunk of total Taliban revenues, which are said to be around US$1.6 billion, a point made more salient by the freezing of Afghan government reserves held in US banks. Chinese state media has already made a point of stating that it can meet the anticipated fiscal shortfall (a predicted 20% fall from the previous pledge of US$15.2 billion between 2016 and 2020) in Afghanistan’s coffers through official direct investment as part of the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The PRC has a long-term interest in incorporating Afghanistan into the BRI: Despite a recent focus on domestic infrastructure, the Belt and Road Initiative remains Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project. As long as he remains General Secretary of the CCP, that will continue to be the case. The BRI is a quasi-imperial project that seeks to offshore access to industrial capacity and labour, while also tying regional states closer to the PRC’s economy. Dual Circulation theory, the CCP’s current economic strategy, sees the PRC intending to create trade asymmetries between it and other trading powers, so that its domestic economy drives growth, while others remain dependent on Chinese trade and investment. No doubt, the use of infrastructure financingand a debated-but-still-relevant concept, ‘debt-trap diplomacy’, would also give Beijing direct influence over the Taliban’s leadership.
The PRC has a strong interest in sidelining India in any settlement: Beijing may seek to sideline India from having a major role in Afghanistan, and there are two strong reasons why the G7 countries should again invite India’s leader Narendra Modi to any virtual meeting and any subsequent diplomacy with China. First, India has been developing strong links to Afghanistan over the past 20 years and sees it as a priority issue. Second, while Afghanistan is bound to become somewhat reliant on China for future economic and trade development, India and the Gulf states could and should provide enough economic diversity to soften China’s heft.
Thus, when the G7 leaders meet next week, they should frame any cooperation with the PRC in terms of the mutual interest all parties have in a stable Afghanistan that does not harbour or export Jihadists. After they have established that, they will have to discuss how to balance cooperation with the PRC in Afghanistan within the greater strategic context of geopolitical competition. No doubt, the CCP leadership will be doing the same. The G7 will have to balance and prioritise their interests within the relationships with the PRC, with the Taliban, and with any resurrected non-Pashtu Northern Alliance group – should one arise. It is a fluid time calling for diplomacy and strategic decisiveness.
The release of the UK’s Integrated Review (IR) last week and the Defence Command Paper this week have sparked a smallbut vigorous debate as to the direction of Britain’s global posture with many speculating on the meaning of its “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific. After all, its founding assumption was “[The UK] must also do more to adapt to major changes in the world around us, including the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region”. This growing enthusiasm for engaging in the region certainly offers a great opportunity for Delhi to partner with London. Despite these exciting prospects, some critics have noted the word “tilt” contrasts unfavorably with the Obama administration’s “rebalance” to Asia from 2011. A tilt is not a rebalance after all, indicating less than full commitment by the UK to the region. But then it was never quite realistic to expect an island-nation in the Euro-Atlantic to throw its full diplomatic, economic, and military resources into a part of the world many thousands miles away. Having said that, experts with a close knowledge of the IR say that it is best understood when considering the last iteration of a security review, the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, and point to the significant shift in London’s China strategy.
The 2015 review noted the importance of the Asia Pacific, but it was buried in a section called“Allies, Partners, and Global Engagement” and only came after sections on Europe, the Commonwealth, the Five Eyes, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as sub-Saharan Africa. It noted the region’s “significant economic opportunities” as well as its “considerable influence on the future integrity and credibility of the rules-based international order”—a binary at the very heart of Britain’s approach to the region. If one thinks back to 2015, London was attempting to strengthen Chinese inflows of investment, while also trying to shore up the rules-based international system (RBIS). The contradiction within that policy has been a mainstay of many countries’ approach towards China. But the difference between the 2015 review and last week’s IR is striking when one considers how China is treated in the two documents. In the 2015 review, just one year after Beijing carried out a sausage-slicing take-over of the South China Sea trade route, the Cameron government was, nevertheless, laying out the red carpet for China’s leader Xi Jinping, giving him the honours accorded a full state visit—a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, and the declaration of a UK-China “Golden Era”. Compare that with the description of China as a “systemic challenge” in the IR.
Areas where the two overlap is in the economic-security binary, and the 2015 review asserts that the region’s importance “to our economy and security; it is a focal point for the negotiation for international rules and norms, and will become more important to UK prosperity.” Given the UK’s historic identity—the creator of a global trade-based, maritime empire—it should come as no surprise that as London leaves the stifling embrace of a Berlin-led European Union, it should look to the traditional geographic and geo-economic drivers and national interests. The difference being, of course, that the UK comes as a fullymature liberal democracy with a history and political culture at odds with its imperial past. Thus, while the geopolitical variables are the same—maritime-based trade in an increasingly contested order—the UK’s response will the different, charged with democratic liberalism rather than commercial imperialism.
However, where the IR begins to seriously differ from its predecessor is in the handling of that economic driver. Previously, under the leadership of Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, London seemed to treat China and Asia as one and the same. In defending Britain’s decision to join the Beijing-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), he stated it would be“good for a world where we draw countries together in cooperation, good for Asia because it is going to help bring investment to this continent.” Indeed, the fantasy of tapping at will into Beijing’s large currency reserves acted as a sort of charm inside Whitehall, deployed by the Treasury to beguile political masters against those in the Admiralty and Foreign and Commonwealth Office who held misgivings. It is difficult not to see last week’s Integrated Review as a victory for those constituents against the “Golden Era“ adherents, buoyed by China’s own actions, such as in 2017 when it reneged on the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong—a treaty document registered with the United Nations—and in 2018 when it began an imperial project of cleansing Xinjiang of its Uyghur Muslim population.
The Integrated Review also deepens the UK’s commitment to regional states like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore.Oddly, it does not mention the Quad security grouping at all within the IR’s 114 pages, but its non-appearance could be down to diplomatic sensitivities. The UK has indicated interest in the Quad but will not wish to be seen to be muscling in. Either way, it is a surprising omission. In speaking to the UK–India relationship, the paper tracks the broader trend inside the West of treating India as a rising power in its own right, courting its participation and leadership in the Commonwealth and looking to it for increasing UK–Asia trade flows. Given the post-COVID trade-flow vulnerabilities and Beijing’s increasing use of economic coercive statecraft, this desire to diversify away from China is a significant opportunity for India, ASEAN, and others. Notably, this trade diversification strategy has already seen the UK negotiate trade deals with Japan, Australia, and has opened negotiations with the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership(CPTPP) trade group. Naturally, this will include defence trade, something that will be nicely paired with the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group’s tour through the Indo-Pacific region. When it comes to helping regional states build naval capacity—particularly those based around advanced maritime operations—the Royal Navy and UK Defence Inc. intend to be an agile and willing partner.
The Integrated Review is not a perfect document, but it offers a broad strategic direction for the UK and a signal of intent to India and other Indo-Pacific powers. James Rogers, founding director of the Council of Geostrategyasserts that the emphasis on the Indo-Pacific is “a heavy one” and that “India has been identified as a pivotal country, with the likelihood of growing ties between London and New Delhi in the years ahead”. As we consider an uncertain future in the waning months of the pandemic, it will be, indeed, interesting to see whether or not that prophecy is realised.
We often seek lessons from history. Thucydides famously wrote that he wished for his History of the Peloponnesian War to be “useful for by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future.” Winston Churchill wrote that he sought to make his history, The Second World War, a “contribution to history that will be of service to the future.”
And yet, no sooner is a comparison made than a critic responds that the historical analogy is malformed, citing major differences between those periods and our own. After all, not all diplomacy with an aggressor leads to a “Munich” moment, not every step, a step “across the Rubicon,” nor every rising power destined for a “Thucydides Trap.”
The imposition of broad sweeping comparisons from the past should, of course, be avoided, but this does not mean that lessons cannot be extracted from history when dealing with certain types of scenarios. So while history does not necessarily repeat itself, it can certainly echo. Structural variables work to influence complex political behaviors in ways that are repeated. The fact that practitioners themselves are immersed in history, accentuates this. So how can today’s policymaker—attempting to design policies that deal with China’s rise—draw from the past, without making category mistakes or sweeping generalizations?
When seeking historical instruction, a starting point might be to isolate common structural conditions or variables for comparison. These might include the form of political leadership, regime-type, the form of international polarity, methods of competition, and the impact of specific technologies on escalatory logics (e.g. how do nuclear weapons limit choices?).
If we apply this typology to the three most recent historical episodes of “rising-power challenges,” then we believe that we can extract lessons in relation to the emerging competition with China. These periods include the European rivalry before World War I, the global competition before World War II, and the era of geopolitical struggle now known as the Cold War. From there, it is clear that there are many commonalities between those periods and the one we are moving into. What do these three eras of competition offer American, British and Indo-Pacific policymakers in terms of insight when dealing with the rise of China?
China has a leader around which power has become increasingly centralized to the extent that a cult-of-personality style of leadership has emerged. These behaviors might have been predicted in the first years of Xi Jinping’s regime by looking at his earliest speeches to the CCP cadre. As with other totalitarian leaders, such as Stalin and Hitler, Xi believes in the power of the party-state ideology to drive policy as well as consolidate domestic control. As we saw from those unhappy regimes, as power is centralized, intolerance towards pluralism grows, to the extent that minorities—especially those considered hostile by the regime—come under mounting surveillance and discrimination. Here there are echoes between the plight of the Uighurs and various ethnicities in Nazi Germany and the USSR.
Likewise, under Xi’s authoritarian leadership, more and more of China’s society has fallen under the power of an increasingly expansive party-state structure (similar to the totalitarian party-states of the 1930s), which utilizes an international ideology (socialism), combined with nationalism (with Chinese characteristics), to export the Chinese model abroad to reorder the international system. This approach is not unlike those of past regimes. Like the Kaiser, Xi believes China has the right to shine like the sun. Unlike Hitler, he shies away from open warfare as a means of policy. But, like the party bosses of the USSR, he believes in economic and political warfare to expand China’s power.In terms of regime type, we can see forces at work in China that were also found in Wilhelmian and Nazi Germany. This is because there are few mechanisms for legitimizing the leadership of the party, such as elections or referendums in one-party systems. Therefore, jingoistic nationalism begins to fill that space—or is deliberately positioned to fill it—and if allowed to become too virulent, can lead to domestic pressures for more aggressive, even expansionist, foreign policies.
As an authoritarian state, contemporary China, much like the Nazi and Soviet regimes before it, has proven adroit at integrating the dimensions of state power to the extent that it appears more successful than the fatigued and exhausted liberal democracies. As we know from the struggles with those regimes, the United States, the UK and their allies in the Indo-Pacific region will need to develop greater internal cohesion and overcome many of the “critical” or “core” assumptions that have sapped them of their strength if they are to compete successfully against China.
In terms of polarity, the previous struggles were more focused. While Japan was a major regional power in the run-up to World War II, the key powers have been concentrated in the Euro-Atlantic region for the past three centuries. In the emerging period of competition, the major powers are spread out. China, India and Japan are in Asia, the United States is in the Americas, and Britain, Germany and Russia are in Europe. American, British and Indo-Pacific policymakers will need to look at an increasingly global theatre, one where the Euro-Atlantic region and the Indo-Pacific region are intrinsically linked.
Polarity matters, and whether this period is a transition to a bipolar U.S.-China era or a truly multipolar era will impact how states construct their national strategies. If China and the United States are the only superpowers—or whether India and the Europeans are able to develop superpower metrics and the political will to use them—then that sill deeply impact alignment behavior, and correspondingly the leadership approach of the United States.
Methods of competition also have historical echoes. While China is, like the USSR, a communist regime, it has a much higher GDP relative to the leading democracy, the US, than the Soviet Union ever did. It is also, similarly to Wilhelmian Germany, deeply ingrained into global supply chains and the world economy. Therefore, rather than looking for examples of dealing with economic statecraft or coercion from the Cold War, policymakers might consider Wilhelmian Germany in 1914 which utilizeddumping, finance, and trade for strategic ends across Europe. Thus, we should look to the policy options of France, Italy, and the UK for dealing with economic conflict with China.
The West relied heavily on regional alliances to deal with the Wilhelmian and Soviet threats. And now, similar to what occurred in the 1930s, there is an aversion to developing regional alliances or collective defense measures against today’s revisionist: China. This is despite the fact that NATO kept the peace in Europe for nearly seventy years. In addition, there is an allergic reaction to giving Taiwan an open defense guarantee; however, the 1930s showed that the same style of strategic ambiguity by France and Great Britain toward Austria and Czechoslovakia encouraged Nazi ambitions. Indeed, as we think about how Nazi Germany went from attempting to unify German-speaking peoples to absorbing non-Germans, we should think about whether or not a failure to react to more “legitimate” claims can give encouragement to entirely illegitimate ones. While modern-day China is not as aggressive as Nazi Germany, allied weakness and lack of cohesion at critical moments—as when Berlin took the Ruhr region, undermined the governments of Austria and Czechoslovakia before using diplomacy to expand its power—made miscalculation more, not less, likely. When thinking about Hong Kong and Taiwan, this is a relevant lesson.
In terms of technology, the possession of nuclear weapons remains a huge variable in today’s great-power competition. As we consider the current competition with China, it is clear that the major powers are, as during the Cold War, in possession of nuclear arms, most with fully-established global second-strike capabilities. This means that, unless technology becomes available that can circumvent the danger posed by ballistic or high-speed cruise missiles, escalation can only be “horizontal” and “diagonal,” rather than “vertical.” If we consider how the U.S./UK and USSR were similarly discouraged from escalating to open war with each other, we can see that the emerging era of competition will be pushed into below-the-threshold conflict with conflict taking place in the information sector, the digital sector, technology, space, and across other nonmilitary sectors.
Despite early Soviet advances during the “space race,”the United States, UK and their western allies were often in the ascendancy in terms of technology during the Cold War. The contemporary era of competition, however, is more likely to resemble the struggles with Wilhelmian and Nazi Germany during the early twentieth century, when the chief revisionist was technologically equal to, or even superior to, the established powers. This is because China has moved forward rapidly with the development of telecommunications systems and other industries of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
Here are the two takeaway points: First, historical examples are useful but there has been a growing trend in the public arena to criticize such analogies because they fail to precisely match our present day. This approach makes perfect an enemy of the good. We might not be in a “cold war” that equates exactly with the historic events of 1949 to 1989, but by looking for similar variables we can look back to that period for those relevant policies that worked while avoiding those that did not. Second, in this commentary, we have put forward ten lessons from history that we believe are instructional for the contemporary era. No doubt, many will disagree with them or have slight variations. That is wonderful, and such points should be put forward to debate whether we have drawn the right conclusions or not. We have primarily used them to show our variables might inform our analogies, providing perspectives to help policymakers.
The Five Eyes alliance has long been a bulwark of the free world. On one level, it is simply an intelligence-sharing partnership between the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Yet it is able to function as perhaps the most comprehensive espionage alliance in history because of implicit trust between its members, based on an understanding that they share the same interests and ambitions.
Meanwhile, Australian MPs on their parliament’s intelligence committee were said to have leaked details of a tense meeting with Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary. New Zealand and Canada have been watching from the wings in dismay – but the time is coming when they, too, will have to pick a side.
In all of this, UK discussion of the issue has focused on risk mitigation – whether the threat posed by China can be contained in the specific matter of 5G. But British efforts to reassure their allies are not working. Australia and the US aren’t impressed by London’s attempts to use technical arguments to fudge what they see as a geopolitical debate for commercial reasons. At heart, they are critical of London’s prioritisation of business as usual with China over their collective security.
They see China as a growing regional and global destabiliser – a revisionist power that must be checked. To them, the UK’s Huawei decision illustrates a wider British willingness to sacrifice security for the sake of its own narrow interests.
Of course the UK is free to ignore such worries, but there could be consequences. Britain has stated that it wishes to sign trade deals with both the US and Australia, and the response has been largely positive. Yet it is not clear that those involved can skirt around the issue for much longer.
This is for three reasons. The first is Donald Trump. Although he views renegotiating the US trade posture as a cornerstone of his presidency, he has not taken the Huawei decision well.
Second, the UK has still not fully understood the scale of the diplomatic damage. Continuing to treat this as a solely Huawei-related problem rather than a broader China issue has annoyed American and Australian foreign policy experts, particularly in their security communities. From their perspective, Britain is ignoring an assumption, built into Five Eyes, that all five are to defend themselves and each other from authoritarian states.
Third, there are troubling signs that China is developing a strategy which draws on the UK’s resources to achieve its ambitions. Consider its investment in the UK fintech and hi-tech sectors and the calls for a “Golden Era” relationship.
It is only becoming more obvious to Washington and Canberra that, while they have adjusted to Beijing’s aggressive stance, the UK – and to a lesser extent, New Zealand and Canada – have not. Such divergence is unsustainable if Five Eyes is to function smoothly – and this on top of the UK’s belief that it should focus more on Russia than on China.
Britain now faces a difficult choice. It can continue its current approach towards China and attempt to reap the economic gains. Alternatively, it might craft a more careful approach, similar to those of the US, Australia and Japan.
Neither option is without cost. The latter means giving up some of those commercial benefits, insisting on scaling back the non-standalone 5G infrastructure which Huawei has already deployed, and realigning foreign policy more broadly. Going ahead with the former, however, risks much graver consequences. The Five Eyes partners are not about to stop working together – but such a deep and special partnership will not last unless all its members trust that they are working for the same ends.
Sir Andrew Parker’s assertion that incorporating Huawei components in the next stage of the UK’s 5G network would be unlikely to disrupt intelligence relations with the US or its allies is alarming for a number of reasons. It would appear that the UK’s spymasters have decided – much like Britain’s telecommunications companies – on a policy of asking the right questions in order to guarantee the right answers.
The UK needs Huawei’s 5G tech at its laughably cheap prices. And so ignored is the geopolitical context of an increasingly authoritarian China, funding Huawei’s expansion across Europe. Ignored is the company’s role in Xinjiang. Ignored is China’s place as a leading source of global cyber espionage. Ignored is the 2017 National Intelligence Law which requires Chinese companies to cooperate with China’s intelligence agencies, at home and abroad. Ignored are China’s increasing influence operations inside Western democracies.
Instead, the decisive question in Britain’s 5G debate has become a comically narrow one: will Huawei’s inclusion into Britain’s 5G networks be a threat to the network’s integrity?
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) argues that it can mitigate this risk by using multiple vendors – a mixture of Huawei, Ericsson, and Nokia – and by restricting Huawei’s components to the periphery or “non-intelligent” bits of the network.
According to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the telecoms network is structured around three functional parts. The transport layer, the physical nodes that transport data; the routing layer, which works out the best transport route for the data to use; and finally, the edge, where consumers – that’s you and me – interact with it.
Huawei, they tell us, will be kept out of the core, which is a functional name for all the bits that decide who you are, where your data needs to go, and so on. That means they’ll be restricted to antennas, routers, switches, and products at the consumer end such as WiFi boxes, and away from the intelligent bits that have more access to the data.
The NCSC seems to indicate that this has long been a deciding principle, but we know that BT began ripping out Huawei components from its 4G core as late as December 2018, meaning either the principle only dates from then, or the NCSC does not keep a close eye on the network. Neither is very reassuring.
The NCSC has also said that any code used in components in the network – such as antennas and routers – will be pre-checked for backdoors and vulnerabilities at its Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) in Banbury, Oxfordshire. It sounds rather good, especially since Huawei has agreed to pay for it all.
The problem is that checking code will not work any better than the plan to keep Huawei out of the “core”.
5G will be a virtual network, in which components of the network are “white-boxed”, meaning that network administrators can upload patches for fixes and updates remotely. Think of 5G as something akin to your phone. When an app on your phone is updated, that is because someone in Silicon Valley pushed a button, sending updated code – a patch – to all phones with that app.
As one US cyber official recently stated, it’s what makes 5G so attractive to network administrators – site visits become increasingly unnecessary as more repairs to the network infrastructure can be done remotely. It also gives network administrators the ability to move functionality – including the intelligent bits – around the network to fit requirements.
But it is this flexibility that makes the trustworthiness of telecoms vendors so important when it comes to 5G. In a virtual network, an untrustworthy vendor can send the good as well as the bad.
In order to stop such malware, the NCSC would have to watch hundreds of thousands of antennae and components across an entire national network. As with terrorism, we’d have to be lucky every time, but a cyber hacker would have to be lucky only once.
In a report released last March, the HCSEC Oversight Board, tasked with overseeing the Huawei centre in Banbury, noted that it “continued to identify concerning issues in Huawei’s approach to software development, bringing significantly increased risk to UK operators, which requires ongoing management and mitigation”.
The report continues that they can only give “limited assurance that the long-term security risks can be managed in the Huawei equipment currently deployed in the UK”. Imagine if they were discussing airline safety instead of just critical national infrastructure.
Even more damning was a report by Finite State – a private tech consultancy – that sought to replicate HCSEC’s review of Huawei source code. However, instead of using code provided by Huawei, it used code found in Huawei products already on the market. Alarmingly, not only did it find significantly more vulnerabilities than other brands, it found efforts to disguise those vulnerabilities.
This past year, Chinese diplomats have threatened economic retaliation against Germany and Denmark if they exclude Huawei in their 5G networks. One wonders what type of pressure Beijing has exerted on the UK behind the scenes. Certainly, Liu Xiaoming, China’s Ambassador, has already openly said that future investment could be at risk.
However, Britain does not and should not do business at gunpoint. Before this Government makes a very costly mistake, it must thoroughly explain its technical mitigation measures, both to the public, and to its allies.
Dr John Hemmings, director of the Asia Studies Centre at foreign policy think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said: ‘China has put a million Uighurs in camps and is building an Orwellian surveillance society.
‘Anyone who thinks a million people in camps are being served well needs to reflect on their moral compass.’
John Hemmings, director of the Asia studies centre at the British think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said that Brexit and the Conservative leadership contest had made Britain “vulnerable” to “displays of anger” from China.
“[Beijing] has noticed that because of Brexit and the oversize importance that London attaches to threats to investment, it can improve its leverage by showing strong emotions against the UK,” Hemmings said.
He said Beijing had been “introducing a rather toxic approach” in its approach towards London with Liu regularly threatening Britain in domestic newspaper articles and accused him of “interfering” in domestic politics.
“I think it is inevitable that the UK will also become more defensive toward Beijing if it continues this high-profile, strong-arm tactics approach towards both its people in Hong Kong and its economic partners,” Hemmings said.
Carrie Lam’s apology over the extradition bill would appear to be a victory of democracy and “people power”. People 1: Beijing 0.
However, it’s worth looking a bit further into why the Hong Kong government apparently backed down in order to understand the wider implications of China’s impact on the city, and by extension the West’s relationship with Hong Kong and China.
There are a number of possible reasons for Lam’s climb down, which broadly fall into three categories: the democratic victory, external pressure and tactical retreat. In the first instance, it does seem that the government of Hong Kong was completely unprepared for the huge outpouring of dissent.
While it’s difficult to confirm that one million people did protest on June 9, as the organisers claim, the scenes of people marching to the Legislative Council are impressive and the shift to violence revealed a weak hand on the part of the Hong Kong government.
Furthermore, arguing the case for the rule of law with Beijing has become increasingly tenuous. One need only think of the booksellers – Gui Minhai, Lui Bo and Lam Wing-kee – all kidnapped or taken by Chinese forces in acts of extraordinary rendition.
The second reason, that of external pressure, also bears scrutiny – and if true, should have an impact on UK thinking and policy in future. The US move to reintroduce the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the wake of the protests was notable, as it threatens to remove Hong Kong’s special treatment afforded by the US Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, putting it squarely in front of the Trump administration’s US-China trade war.
Combined with statements made by the UK, Germany and the EU, this indicated that the tide of international public opinion was firmly with the protesters. And there are those like Grant Newsham, a former US government official with a long stint in Asia, who claim that the backdown is in fact a strategic retreat.
He notes: “Chances are they will wait and then punish who they believe are the ringleaders, just as they did with the ‘umbrella movement’ in 2014; jail time for ridiculous reasons; constant and pervasive harassment.”
As the controversy dies down, we will discover exactly which of the three of these played the largest part. For the UK, knowing which was the most important – particularly if it was the second factor – should play a driving force in future policy.
“As the Conservative Party gears up to choose the next prime minister, it is becoming apparent that a different kind of leadership is required, one that puts Britain’s principles and values back in the centre of the relationship with China,” wrote John Hemmings, deputy director of research at the Henry Jackson Society, a British think tank.
“The UK has, for too long, prioritised trade in the relationship.”
Analysis of top regional issues from the research team at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. Please note that the views expressed on this blog do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.