The U.K. Is Souring on Huawei. What Comes Next?

It’s strange to think of now, but only months ago China seemed to be enjoying a period of great diplomatic strength. For decades, as the Chinese economy enjoyed explosive growth, the world had become addicted to Chinese manufacturing and, in recent years, to Chinese consumer markets. As the Chinese became indispensable to other nation’s economies, their leaders used that leverage to export their own political aims—pressuring Hollywood studios to keep unflattering political narratives out of big-budget movies, say, or coercing U.S. sports leagues to operate as de-facto censors of anti-CCP sentiments, or enticing Silicon Valley companies to help them build out a censored version of the internet.

China was as authoritarian toward its people and as dishonest in its dealings with other nations as it had ever been, but it didn’t seem to matter: The Chinese had bought themselves a seat at the international big kids table, and everyone else was just going to have to live with it.  

Then coronavirus hit. As the pandemic raced around the world, it quickly became apparent that the Chinese government bore much responsibility—if not for the disease itself, then the nothing-to-see-here propaganda that downplayed the deadliness of the virus for months. Nations that had bet on being business partners with a country that didn’t share their values got a bitter reminder of the consequences of that decision as the death toll climbed.

The result has been a global souring of attitudes against China, with governments around the world considering whether unconditional engagement with the CCP has turned out to be a Faustian bargain. Perhaps the clearest indicator of how far Western attitudes have shifted is the United Kingdom’s renewed debate over whether to permit Chinese telecom giant Huawei to build its next-generation 5G data infrastructure.  

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