US President Donald Trump reportedly gave UK PM Boris Johnson a major ear-bashing over the phone following the UK’s decision to allow Huawei in parts of its 5G networks.
The news comes courtesy of the FT, who has an anonymous source that reckons they know how the phone call went. We’re told Trump was apoplectic and expressed his views in livid terms. It must have been a hilarious call, with Trump screaming abuse and BoJo countering with placatory phrases such as “steady on, old chap”.
Trump’s notorious petulance aside, it’s becoming increasingly clear that his administration views 5G as a matter of core geopolitical concern, both in terms of security and commerce. It has been moved to the front line of the battle of wills between Trump and Chinese supremo Xi Jinping and the US is trying to insist its allies to what they’re told on the matter.
US Attorney General William Barr made a speech yesterday in which he banged on about what a threat to all we hold sacred China is. Barr thinks 5G is a critical weapon to be used against China and reiterated the FCC’s position on the importance of getting hold of C-Band spectrum as part of an increasingly state-sponsored bid for 5G dominance.
At the core of his speech was the need to have an alternative to Huawei that the US state can control. Apparently oblivious to the hypocrisy of this stance, since it’s the suspicion of Chinese state control over Huawei that has fuelled US hostility towards it, Barr seems to think state intervention in the affairs of private companies is OK so long as the goodies are doing it.
“There have been some proposals that these concerns could be met by the United States aligning itself with Nokia and/or Ericsson through American ownership of a controlling stake, either directly or through a consortium of private American and allied companies,” said Barr. “Putting our large market and financial muscle behind one or both of these firms would make it a far more formidable competitor and eliminate concerns over its staying power or their staying power. We and our closet allies certainly need to be actively considering this approach.”
The US position on 5G, security and China seems to be evolving rapidly. In the space of what feels like just a few weeks it has moved from trying to persuade its allies to distance themselves from Huawei to shouting at them down the phone and contemplating direct intervention in their companies. Trump needs to seriously consider winding his neck in on this before he permanently alienates the US from its global friends.