Europe Facing Disconnection Disaster over Huawei and Curbs on Chinese Companies?
European countries like Germany, the United Kingdom, and Norway have been struggling over the extent to which they should use equipment and services and accept foreign direct investment (FDI) from Chinese telecommunication firms. The United States has played no small role in fueling these actors’ quandaries by warning loudly and persistently about the national security and data privacy risks associated with collaborating with the likes of Huawei, ZTE, and others and, beyond this, threatening sanctions such as reduced intelligence sharing. It is Huawei, above all, that has taken the lead in countering the backlash against it: it strongly refutes the claim it presents any threat; has hired public relations (PR) firms and run PR campaigns, and, no doubt, has lobbied Beijing to back it. Recently, the Chinese government and Chinese media have become much more vocal about the potential for European states to suffer concrete adverse consequences if Huawei and other Chinese firms face barriers. These might include reduced Chinese FDI, trade sanctions, and European businesses encountering obstacles to doing business in China. They might entail the loss of jobs, technology, and cheaper equipment, too. There seems to be some confidence on China’s part that European countries will put their parochial economic motives first, a reasonable presumption in some, but not all, cases. A visible, strong arm campaign by Beijing, though, has a high likelihood of backfiring as it can “validate” the belief Huawei is an arm of the Chinese government and intensify the sense among European publics that closer economic links with China deliver bondage rather than benefits. Given that any decisions by European politicians must take into account their “security” interests (which depends upon their responsive to their respective electorates) and those of their countries, China’s wiser move might be to find better ways to assuage their concerns.