“American sanctions left the U.K. with little choice,” said Priya Guha, a former British diplomat who represented the country’s interests in Silicon Valley. “There was a bit of checkmate by the U.S.”
Huawei spent the past several weeks lobbying against a ban, emphasizing its investments in Britain. Members of Huawei’s U.K. advisory board, made up of British business leaders including former BP chief executive John Browne, urged Mr. Johnson’s aides to take a more moderate approach. (A few hours before the government’s announcement on Tuesday, Huawei said Mr. Browne was leaving the board.)
Many see the Huawei dispute as foreshadowing future conflicts, with other high-profile companies becoming entangled. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was considering actions against Chinese apps, including the hugely popular social media service TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese internet company.
Last week, the American tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google, all already blocked from the censored internet of mainland China, suspended the processing of Hong Kong government requests for user data because of a new national security law that mandates police censorship and digital surveillance. The new law could result in fines, equipment seizures or even arrests of company employees if the requests are denied.
Britain’s decision to ban Huawei will put pressure on other European countries. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is being urged to keep the company out of a new 5G network, but is weighing the economic fallout for German automakers, for whom China is a critical market. Australia has issued a ban, and Canada is considering one as well.
“If Huawei is stopped in its tracks, that does represent a very important inflection point for China’s ability to achieve its objectives,” said Nigel Inkster, a senior adviser at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London who has written a book on the technology battle between the United States and China. “That would be very consequential.”
Mr. Inkster, a former member of the British intelligence service, warned that the West risks provoking China if it feels more economically isolated. “There is a serious need to think hard and deeply about whether it is realistic to disengage from China totally in these areas,” he said.
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