Britain: the Tories vs China – Huawei ban shows farce of British sovereignty

Last week, Boris Johnson announced that the UK would finally ban Huawei from its 5G mobile infrastructure. After years of indecision, this move might appear as a sign of its newfound sovereignty and resolve post Brexit. In reality, it proves the very opposite.

There is no real sovereignty under capitalism. The world market decides the fate of second-rate, technologically-dependent countries like Britain. In this epoch of imperialist struggle between the titanic powers of the US and China, the reactionary dream of seafaring ‘global Britain’ is sinking fast.

Illusion of independence

Donald Trump was only too happy to sink this ship, gloating of Britain’s Huawei ban that “I did this myself, for the most part”. What he did, apparently, was to scream down the phone at Boris Johnson after the Prime Minister initially approved Huawei’s role.

Trump’s bullying of his very own sidekick was backed up by the US’ recent decision to completely cut off Huawei’s access to American microchips, upon which they still rely.

The US is terrified of China’s increasing power and technological advances. However, it retains a significant edge in several decisive technologies – first and foremost in microprocessors. But it has just lost its edge in satellite navigation after the dominant GPS system was recently surpassed by China’s BeiDou. Countries such as Pakistan have already signed up to use it. Therefore, the US will utilise its advantage in microprocessors while it still can.

One thing is for certain: there is zero chance that Britain can tread an independent path in this technological war. As China’s Global Times paper dismissively stated this week:

“It is not necessary to turn this into a China-UK confrontation. The UK is not the US, nor Australia, nor Canada. It is a relative ‘weak link’ in the Five Eyes [the name for intelligence collaboration between these English speaking countries].”

Thus, Johnson’s bold ‘act of British sovereignty’ was decided entirely for him. By banning access to superior US microprocessors, the Americans have forced Huawei to subsequently use only Chinese made ones.

This means its technology can no longer be vetted by GCHQ, since it will use parts not understood by them. The US has effectively forced Huawei into fulfilling the role it has always been accused of – being an opaque backdoor for Chinese spying into the UK.

Fetter on technology

This decision graphically demonstrates what Marxists have long known: that capitalism – based on private ownership, production for profit, and the nation state – is now a fetter on the development of the productive forces.

This decision will apparently delay the roll out of 5G technology in the UK by around three years. Full-fibre broadband will also be held back. Huawei is the clear frontrunner in 5G technology. Its hardware is better and cheaper than that of its rivals, Ericsson and Nokia. But the US is using its imperialist power in an attempt to suffocate this technology, precisely because it is so advanced and potentially useful for its rivals.

Indeed, Washington’s general aim is to keep China in a state of backwardness so that its labour force remains low-paid and easily exploited, and cannot challenge the US. It is also willing to hold back the development of its own allies, and to threaten them in the process, to get what it wants.

This decision will cause Britain to fall behind technologically. 4G technology was rolled out in the UK late, and this undermined the productivity of British capitalism. Now this will be repeated with 5G.

Laughably, Boris Johnson has claimed this ban will allow for the entrance of a British firm into the competition. If Nokia and Ericsson – both huge and well established companies – cannot defeat Huawei without using the cheat of the American state, how on earth can a non existent British firm hope to do so?

Pathetic pawn

31/01/2020. London, United Kingdom. Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson inside No10 Downing street at 11pm the moment the UK left the EU. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing StreetBritain is a third-rate power / Image: Andrew Parsons

This decision raises several questions about Britain’s fate in this ‘great power’ struggle. How will it avoid being ground between the twin millstones of American and Chinese imperialism?

For example, Britain’s new nuclear power stations are to be built with Chinese technology and investment. If Huawei represents a security threat – because China is a threat to British capitalism – then the same must apply to nuclear generators that supply all-important energy.

But if Britain were to expel all Chinese investment and technology, it would be dooming itself to an even worse state of backwardness. Outside of the EU, outside of Chinese investment, Britain has no future under capitalism but as a pathetic pawn of the US.

Tory splits

Brexit or business Image Socialist AppealThe Tories are divided on the question of China / Image: Socialist Appeal

Another dimension to this decision is the formation of the ‘China Research Group’ (CRG) by Conservative MPs. Aping the hardline anti-EU ‘European Research Group’, they are pushing a strong anti-China line.

It was expected that the CRG would contribute to Boris Johnson embarrassingly losing a vote on the Huawei question, had he kept to his previous position of allowing them to build 5G for Britain. Labour has also taken an anti-China (and pro-US imperialist) position.

Some are therefore speculating that Boris Johnson was in reality rescued by US imperialism. Washington’s new position gave him an excuse to change his, and thereby avoid looking like he had caved in to pressure from backbench MPs.

But this is a false dichotomy: the CRG’s ‘sinophobia’ is itself a product of US imperialism’s relentless campaign against China. For instance, the ‘rebel’ Tory group has echoed Trump’s accusations that China has covered up COVID-19’s true origins. They are also due to meet Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, on his current visit, who will be pushing for an even harder line on China.

So, whichever way you look at it, Boris Johnson has caved into the same thing: US imperialism’s struggle against the rise of China.

Globalisation in reverse

Trump trade war Image Socialist AppealUS imperialism is in decline, but it cannot tolerate the development of the world economy if it is not in the driving seat / Image: Socialist Appeal

This new epoch of struggle between two imperialist powers is a reflection of the deadend of capitalism. The nation state, alongside private property, is one of capitalism’s two gigantic fetters that hold society back.

Globalisation is going into reverse, and will do for some time. US imperialism cannot tolerate the development of the world economy if it is not in the driving seat.

This trade war is spiralling out of control. Each action of one major party causes a reaction from the other. It also affects – and is affected by – domestic politics. In the US, this is becoming extremely fractious.

As US capitalism and imperialism decline, revolutionary developments are emerging. In these circumstances, it is not possible for the US ruling class to regain the control it used to have, and to pursue a policy of globalisation on its terms. That is ruled out.

Ruling class hypocrisy

The British ruling class is left with no choice but to hitch its wagon to that of the US. This means ceasing its overtures to China.

This has also been confirmed by the Royal Navy’s announcement that its brand new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will be stationed in the South China sea from next year, where it will perform military drills with the US and Japanese navies, in response to growing Chinese ‘assertiveness’. It will be joined by Britain’s next aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, when it has finished being equipped and trained.

Just imagine if the Chinese navy parked its aircraft carriers right outside the English channel! The hypocrisy of the US’ poodle is second to none.

Hypocrisy on China is something that truly unites all the wings of the ruling classes of the West. In America, it is the one question on which Trump has the full backing of both wings of the capitalists. Holding China down is a life or death issue for US capitalism, so they are all in favour of a trade war.

No leg to stand on

The West is at its most blatantly hypocritical on their favourite question: human rights. The anti-China legislation being pushed is set to the mood music of righteous indignation over Beijing’s brutal treatment of Hong Kong and of the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

But the West has absolutely no leg to stand on. The West has been waging a racist campaign against Muslims for decades, torturing and killings millions under the banner of the ‘War on Terror’. It has its own concentration camps.

Trump’s most recent executive order on Hong Kong includes a clause ending US training for Hong Kong’s police. In other words, the notorious US police – the gangers who have sparked an insurrectionary movement throughout the US thanks to their murderous violence – was until this week training Hong Kong’s police in how to repress more effectively.

Just this week, US federal agents have been revealed to practice the abduction of protesters from unmarked cars in Oregon.

Even on the matter of colonising an island and suppressing its struggle for independence, US imperialism did it first. The US brutally represses the Puerto Rican independence movement, including killing its leading activists, such as Filiberto Ojeda Ríos in 2005.

Britain least of all has a right to administer lectures on human rights in Hong Kong. Britain conquered Hong Kong thanks to its domination of China through the opium wars in the nineteenth century. It humiliated and plundered China, turning it into one of the poorest countries in the world.

Under British control, Hong Kong never enjoyed democratic rights. The ‘Crimes Ordinance’, passed by the British in 1971, allowed for the imprisonment of anyone handling any material against the government, with no need for the authorities to even supply any evidence. The head of Hong Kong’s police force is still British.

Class interests

Real sovereignty is only possible outside of the anarchy of the market. Capitalism is a diseased system. It has reached its impasse and can no longer take humanity forwards. Within the confines of the capitalist system, there lies only chauvinism, beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism, poverty, and oppression.

The working class of Britain, China and the US have nothing to gain from this imperialist sabre-rattling and confrontation. The labour movement must fight not against Beijing and for Washington, or the EU, but for its own independent class interests: for the socialist planning of production, under workers’ control.

Under such a system, instead of ruinous competition, we would have international cooperation to meet the needs of all humanity.

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