Mike Pompeo’s heat level: A Blazing Attack on Huawei’s 5G Networks

  • + The UK announced it would ban Huawei from its 5G networks by 2027.
  • + Mike Pompeo’s foreign policy against Huawei is producing results.
  • + Tensions between China and the West are ramping up.
Source: Al Jazeera/Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters

Why is Pompeo’s heat level blazing? 

Answer: The UK barred Huawei from its 5G networks, joining Europe’s hardline position. 

Europe stands with the US! On the 12th of July, the UK announced it would ban Huawei from its internal 5G networks, and gradually phase out of Huawei tech in the coming years. The UK joins most of Europe in implementing tight or complete bans on Huawei tech in 5G networks. Furthermore, the UK is the last country from the Five Eyes alliance to ban Huawei. Considering the critical strategic value and the central role communications technology occupies within the Five Eyes alliance, it was key for the UK to equip itself with a 5G network that is secure from hostile foreign powers. However, the UK’s decision to drop Huawei reveals the success of American foreign policy led by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo against the Chinese firm. 

Since 2017, the US has been leading an aggressive foreign policy against Huawei, especially in Europe (but also with other allies including India, Canada and New Zealand). Indeed, Huawei had been positioning itself as Europe’s provider for the new 5G networks, offering the highest level of available 5G technology at affordable prices. The US opposes Huawei predominantly due to the potential security threat it represents. Technically, Huawei provides and installs the 5G network’s key infrastructure including gateway, routers, network switches, and bridges, essentially part of the data centres. 

The first threat this technology represents is spying. Western nations fear that Huawei can save or re-route all of the information transiting on its networks, essentially creating a massive spying system of Western information for the Chinese government. Pompeo has emphasized on this risk due to China’s extensive cyber-warfare operations, which have targeted Western companies and armies for the past decade. Chinese advanced persistent threats (state backed hacker groups) have orchestrated massive hacks of Google, IBM, Supermicro and have successfully stolen blueprints of US military technology such as the F35 and Patriot Missile System.

The second threat Huawei’s infrastructure represents is the existence of a “backdoor”. Essentially, this would allow Huawei to shut off its entire infrastructure with the flip of a button, crippling an entire country’s communication and technological grid. In the event of conflict with China, Western nations fear their entire communications systems could be compromised in an instant. Pompeo has sought back this military threat by outlining Huawei’s extensive links to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the communist party. Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei was an engineer in the PLA, while the company’s executives remain highly interlinked with the communist party. The US Secretary of State is well aware that since 1999, it has been an official directive of the PLA to engage in non-regulated warfare, essentially in cyber-warfare and targeting of enemy telecommunications systems. 

Initially, the US was unsuccessful in getting its allies to ban Huawei. American foreign policy presented the Huawei ban as an obligation to choose between the US and China, and European countries don’t like being pressured by the Americans on domestic policy. Nominated US Secretary of State in March 2018, Mike Pompeo changed the rhetoric of US foreign policy against Huawei. Dropping “us vs. them”, Pompeo instead adopted a more pragmatic approach. Pompeo moved away from linking the US’ trade dispute with China to the Huawei debate, instead, shedding light on Huawei’s power structure, which is intertwined with the communist party. The Secretary of State focused on the security risks Huawei presents for each individual nation, on the short and long term. Benefiting from China’s response to Covid-19 and the controversial Hong-Kong reform, Pompeo’s drive to push Huawei out of Europe is finally succeeding. 

What is changing Pompeo’s heat level?

Answer: Success of US foreign policy and growing hostility to China’s wolf-warrior diplomacy. 

Pompeo’s foreign policy against Huawei was successful for two main reasons. 

First, the US Secretary of State was able to modify his communication strategy towards his allies in regard to Huawei over time. At first, many European countries interpreted the US’ push to ban Huawei as US backlash against China over the trade war. Not wanting to be pawns in the US-China trade war, European countries were reluctant to give in to American demands. Pressured by Trump over the continued Huawei presence in Europe, Pompeo understood that he had to communicate more clearly on Huawei infrastructure’s potential dangers, notably spying and backdoor. The Secretary of State successfully pushed European states to recognize the security risk posed by Huawei, with most European countries implementing partial or complete bans on Huawei technology and planning to remove Huawei tech from their telecommunications infrastructure by 2030. Pompeo then moved to create an overall narrative on Huawei. Presenting Huawei as a security threat to the West as a whole and an enabler of the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses, Pompeo stated that Huawei is “an arm of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state that censors political dissidents and enables mass internment camps in Xinjiang and the indentured servitude of its population shipped all over China”. 

Although the US Secretary of State oversaw a successful change in American foreign policy regarding Huawei, he was strongly helped by the Chinese response to Covid-19 and the Hong-Kong reform. 2020 has seen a sharp increase in wolf-warrior diplomacy from Chinese diplomats, seeking to shift the blame of the Covid-19 epidemic on the West, while threatening countries hostile towards the Hong-Kong reform with retaliatory sanctions. The Chinese foreign secretary spokesman threatened the UK by stating that “China strongly condemns this and reserves the right to take further measures. The British side will bear all the consequences.” In France, the Chinese Ambassador was summoned by Le Drian to explain the disinformation campaign he had been leading on social media. Although European countries fear economic reprisals from China (8% of EU exports go to China, and the EU in its current fragmented states could not engage in a US style trade war with China), constant threats, disinformation and attacks from Chinese officials have been extremely unpopular in the West.

Pompeo, seeing an opportunity to distance Europe from China, has sought to exploit the growing division by emphasizing the link between Huawei and the communist party. The US Secretary of State showed that although European countries are unable to pressure China diplomatically or militarily, they can still strike at China’s companies in Europe, denting the Middle Kingdom’s influence and economic weight in the region.  

What is driving Pompeo?

Answer: Keeping pressure on China, living up to Trump’s expectations.

The main aspect of Mike Pompeo’s job in 2020 is keeping the pressure on China. Close to securing the West’s telecommunications from Chinese tech and influence, Pompeo wants to keep momentum by incentivizing US allies to shun Chinese tech companies. The repression of the Uighurs, Covid-19 and Hong-Kong reform have started to turn the West as a whole against China, giving Pompeo a window of opportunity. The US challenge to China (trade war) and the Chinese reaction to Covid-19 have led the West to re-think its entire relationship with China, placing Pompeo at the head of a China-sceptic block. In this new role, and in light of the US presidential elections, Pompeo will have to choose his next steps wisely. The US Secretary of State will most likely intensify US pressure on China, reinforcing the narrative that China is a hostile competitor and attempting to draw allied nations to the US cause. His ultimate goal will be to create a unified group of states ready to defy China, likely in the image of the Cold War

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room that is Donald Trump. The US president has been at the heart of the US hostility against China and has made resistance to growing Chinese influence a key aspect of US Foreign Policy. In this regard, Pompeo responds directly to Trump and his wishes. Trump is known to employ individuals who do not challenge his decisions. To remain in Trump’s good grace, Pompeo is unlikely to do so. Removed from his independence, the US Secretary of State is subject to Trump’s temperamental decisions, potentially blunting the efficiency of US foreign policy. 

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: You won’t be spied on by China (but don’t worry everyone else will still do it)!

The US push for European nations and other allies to ban Huawei is finally producing results. It looks as though by 2030, there won’t be any Huawei tech in Western telecommunication systems (it takes time to phase out every piece of Huawei hardware already installed). The West’s hypocrisy was duly noted, considering the massive surveillance operations Western states use on their own citizens. Nevertheless, the threats of Chinese spying or a backdoor were very real, and Pompeo pushed the European states (notably the UK) to accept that reality and act on it. As such, the banning of Huawei has greatly increased tensions between China and the West, while reinforcing the transatlantic alliance. The American drive to resist growing international Chinese influence seems to have taken effect amongst its allies, and we could be watching in real-time the world divide it-self between pro and anti-Chinese countries. Are we at the dawn of a Cold War in the Age of the Internet?