Despite the Chinese Communist Party’s worldwide propaganda campaign, attitudes across the globe are souring as people realize how the Chinese government’s misguided policies have made their suffering worse. Beijing’s early coverup, its ongoing refusal to share critical scientific information and honest data, and its use of aid and economic levers to reward political loyalty or punish critics are shocking to all. The Communist Party regime will do anything to protect its own interests, regardless of the damage to public health.
Just this week, Beijing punished Australian beef exporters to retaliate for their government’s call for an investigation into the virus’s origins. On Thursday, Chinese media announced that the government is threatening to punish individual U.S. states economically to try to undermine politicians who have called for accountability. China has even threatened to withhold donations of medical equipment to countries that dare to deepen ties with Taiwan.
No country has done more of an about-face on China than Britain, the United States’ closest ally. In January, the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to allow Chinese telecom giant Huawei to participate (with restrictions) in the construction of its next-generation telecommunications infrastructure. Conservative Party member of Parliament Tobias Ellwood, a former defense minister who now chairs Parliament’s defense committee, told me that decision is now being revisited, along with Britain’s entire approach to China.
“The conduct of China during the covid-19 crisis has shone light on its character, and for those who have been sitting on the fence on this issue, it has been a wake-up call,” he said. “We do need to reset our relationship with China. . . . They show no interest in taking on the responsibilities of a superpower.”
The Huawei issue threatens to rupture the U.S.-Britain special relationship. President Trump yelled at Johnson about Huawei in a February phone call. The National Security Council is conducting a full-scale review of U.S.-Britain intelligence collaboration to assess the risks if London goes through with allowing Huawei to help build its 5G system. The U.S. intelligence community believes that letting the Chinese participate will introduce huge vulnerabilities for spying and data theft that can’t be properly mitigated.
Ellwood said the Johnson government is seriously considering reversing its Huawei decision, and several reports back that up. He is leading a parliamentary inquiry that will produce a report aimed at helping the government change its mind and reduce Britain’s reliance on Chinese telecom tech. “The situation has already changed to the detriment of Huawei,” Ellwood said. “The government is very much alive and aware of the need to move away from the non-trusted telecom vendors.”
If it doesn’t, the Trump administration may decide not only to curb some intelligence sharing, but also to remove sensitive military platforms from Britain altogether, such as the R-135 spy planes stationed there. Republican senators led by Huawei critic Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) are proposing an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would bar the planned deployment of 48 F-35 U.S. fighter jets to Britain if London doesn’t reverse course.
If British officials think this is a bluff, they are wrong. The determination in Washington to protect U.S. assets from Huawei is serious. Also, the Trump administration is engaged in a worldwide review of military deployments, with the goal of moving assets to Asia. The case for keeping spy planes and fighters in England was already weak — and a potential Huawei vulnerability makes it weaker.
“It’s not about punishing the U.K. They are set to accept a certain amount of risk that we are just not willing to take on,” a senior GOP congressional aide said. “And the Brits have unintentionally waded into a wider debate in Washington about force posture and China.”
Cotton is to testify before Ellwood’s committee (virtually) next month. It would be nice if he could offer Britain some carrots to go along with the sticks. What would really help countries such as Britain make the right decision on Huawei and China overall would be a U.S. commitment to work with them on a safe 5G alternative.
Then the Trump administration should go to every other country that is waking up to the reality and risks of dealing with China and propose better cooperation in pushing Beijing to stop its coronavirus-related and various other misbehaviors.
The Faustian bargain many countries made to do business with China is costing them dearly. But only through a truly international, competitive strategy can the United States ensure the world finally understands the true nature of the CCP and the dangers it poses to our people.