At the end of 1944, Nazi Germany was facing imminent defeat. The success of the allied landings in Normandy previously that year and a dramatic reversal of fortunes on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union created a contagion against the fascist regime building up to an inevitable invasion of Germany itself. Adolf Hitler, however, was still adamant that the war could be salvaged and decided to gamble on a counter-offensive which would see Germany hurl its remaining supply of reserves at defeating the western allies: This became known as the “Ardennes Counteroffensive” or “The Battle of the Bulge”.
The scheme, made in pure desperation, sought to decisively cut the allied armies in two by capturing the Belgian port of Antwerp, encircling them and subsequently destroying them. Achieving this, Hitler aimed to push the United States and Britain out of the war and then concentrate all his resources on fighting the Soviet Union. Although the initial attack would go on to make some small gains, American forces successfully bore the brunt of the offensive and a combination of logistical problems and allied counter-attacks saw Hitler’s objectives fail. His last ditch gambit to turn the tide of the war fell flat.
What of course, is this relevance of this allegory to the topic at hand? The United States government led by the Trump administration, are similarly waging a full fledged war against the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei. with a particular focus on Europe. Their bid, in the view of stifling China’s advances in strategic technology, has been to completely destroy the economy and isolate it from international markets, both at home and abroad. For just short of two years now this has produced a comprehensive state led effort against the firm.
This has included: the aggressive lobbying of other countries to ban Huawei from their Fifth Generation internet networks, the perpetuation of allegations that the company is a front for Chinese espionage, the weaponization of “lawfare” or criminal charges against the company and its representatives for political purposes, a growing blacklisting of the company from doing business with American firms via the Commerce Department “Entity list” and even talk of buying or subsidizing its rival telecommunications companies including Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Eriksson.
Despite the belligerence of the U.S government in targeting the company, largely given a platform by the mainstream media, in practice its efforts have been of limited success. First of all, beyond core allies such as Australia and Japan, no country has banned Huawei from its 5G networks. This has included a highly significant snub from the United Kingdom, as well as Germany and France. Huawei remains the world’s leading provider of 5G patents and has a growing number of commerical contracts in Europe. Leaders on the continent have rejected America’s pressure on a mixture of scepticism of its allegations and on national interest grounds of refusing to block out leading technology. Outside of Europe, opposition to the company has been practically non-existent.
At the same time, American blacklisting at home has failed to deprive Huawei of the key parts and components which it believed it was dependent on, including computer chips and semi-conductors. The firm has long noted trouble lay ahead, and has sought to both diversify its markets and invest extensively in upgrading its own technological capabilities. Just months ago it revealed a phone which it claimed was “U.S component free” showing just how seriously it was taking this challenge. This development has led the administration to try and further reduce the threshold of American parts allowed in overseas supply chains which Huawei uses, but it has produced resistance from officials who argue it hurts the country’s own innovation and competitiveness.
The British decision, however, to authorize Huawei’s participation in its 5G networks, albeit with restrictions, appears to have been a crucial blow to the United States which has produced the recognition that Washington is now losing its war against the company, albeit with a reluctance to accept the outcome. With a “five eyes” country having effectively said no to the U.S, the blow to its argument and momentum on the issue is severe. Consequentially, Boris Johnson’s decision has produced a significant blowback from U.S officials who simply can’t leave it alone and keep telling the UK to “reconsider”- including an alleged scathing phone call from the U.S President to Downing Street.
Sensing defeat on Huawei, this week has saw Trump administration officials essentially launch their own “Battle of the Bulge” desperation which like Hitler, has saw them unleash everything they have left in a final push to try and finish the company off. This has included a hash of new criminal charges against the firm, accusing it of technology theft and racketeering, something Huawei rejects as “recycled settled cases” and a bombardment of the Munich Security Conference on the issue as part of anti-China speeches by both Mark Esper and Mike Pompeo, even joined by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
However, beyond the noise should be the obvious conclusion that it is too little, too late. The US is losing its war against the company, and has duly lost the battle for Europe. As the Huawei campaign has waged on America’s true motives have became all the more transparent and increasingly unconvincing, with an added aggressive tone making it obvious that Washington is not acting in good faith. Each time they have brandished new allegations or “proof” which they claim is a “smoking gun” against the company only to have governments in Europe respond with apathy or scepticism. At this point, doubling down your effort with added hysteria doesn’t make your claims more credible.
In this case, nothing what Washington says or does at this point can change the fact that Huawei continues to be a leading player in the world’s 5G rollout. The United States has barked at others for soliciting a technology which they themselves do not have, and as Boris noted there has been no practical alternative. In doing so, they have played an aggressive, negative playbook against the firm and effectively exhausted it whilst achieving little tangible success. They know they are losing the war, but cannot admit defeat. Part of maturity in America is thus learning to accept Huawei’s success and international prominence, and live with it.