The US has warned the UK that it may be barred from supplying F-35 fighter jets and cut ties with the US intelligence unless the contract with the Chinese Huawei telecommunications company is broken. Speaking before the House of Commons Defense Committee last week, US Republican Senator Tom Cotton spelled it out to the British MPS that this is not an empty bluster.
According to Cotton, if London does not give up building a 5G network based on the Chinese Huawei technology, the US will not sell the 48 new-generation F-35 combat aircraft to its ally, which the British urgently need to equip their newest aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth. Besides, the overseas guest reminded members of the parliamentary committee that the US still shares information obtained by American intelligence with Britain, but may deprive it of this privilege if London keeps cooperating with Huawei, a company blacklisted and declared number one enemy in the United States.
The US Senator has also explained to his colleagues in layman's terms that Britain, which was called nothing less than "an unsinkable American aircraft carrier" during the Cold War era, is not that important to Washington today. The reason is rather commonplace: previously the United States' key enemy was Russia, now it is China. From Cotton's speech, it became clear that the United States intends to strengthen its military power in the Pacific, with London being of little help to Washington in this regard.
The revelations shared by Senator Cotton with the British MPs, did not convince the country's labour opposition. For instance, according to labor MP Kevin Jones, who was present at the meeting with the Senator, the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarter in Cheltenham) concluded there was no risk for Anglo-American intelligence operations. Jones accused the American of using intimidation to make Britain change its policy.
Please note that Tom Cotton is not a lone fighter but is backed by the White House. Suffice it to recall that not so long ago US President Donald Trump personally admonished British Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the fact that China, and particularly Huawei, undermines defense capabilities of the West with its technologies. Going by a February publication in the Financial Times (FT), the head of the White House was apoplectic with the British Prime Minister in their recent telephone conversation. According to one of the outlet's interlocutors, Trump was furious and used strong words to express his anger. There is no prize for guessing what those words were. For all that, Trump and Johnson have generally developed a good personal relationship. The FT article pointed out that people present in Johnson's office were literally stunned by Trump's rudeness.
The US President's rough tongue and eccentricity are apparently still a novelty for the British, although not only the Americans themselves, but the whole world has become accustomed to it over the three and a half years of his staying in power. Except, apparently, Boris Johnson's surroundings. Although, be it noted, ordinary residents of the British Isles do not really like the American President, which they clearly affirmed during his visit to the United Kingdom in June last year, giving him a "red-carpet treatment".
The situation being what it is, London has plunged into a difficulty and got caught in the crossfire. On the one hand, Boris Johnson does not want to weaken the long-established "special relationship" between the US and Britain. Especially given that Trump supported Johnson in the 2019 election and during the Brexit-related hard times. On the other hand, he must defer ordinary British people, who obviously dislike the current head of the White House. Let us remark here that Trump's actions in Britain are advocated by rightists alone.
At the same time, London does not want to quarrel with China, which, after Britain divorced the European Union, is virtually the major investor in the country's economy. According to a recent publication in The Times, the United Kingdom depends on supplies from China in 71 categories of "vital" goods. This specifically refers to components used when producing antibiotics, painkillers and antiviral medications. China also supplies the Albion with industrial chemicals, metal products and electronics, including mobile phones and laptops. However, the British Isles' distrust in China has recently increased due to its desire to deprive Hong Kong of the autonomy granted in 1997 under the agreement with the UK. As a result, Boris Johnson's government is forced to balance trying to save the day and not get heated with both Washington and Beijing.
Boris Johnson is expected to pay a visit to the United States and will apparently try to convince Donald Trump of London's loyalty to the common Anglo-Saxon traditions and the desire to preserve the "special relationship" between the two states. As for China, London still intends to stay friends with Washington against Beijing. Moreover, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are also supposed to get engaged in this friendship.
There is information that Britain has already started to backpedal in relation to its agreements with Huawei. So, the British authorities are discussing equipment supplies to deploy 5G networks in the country with Samsung and NEC. South Korean and Japanese companies are seen as an alternative to China's Huawei. Moreover, the launch of negotiations with Samsung and NEC was Boris Johnson's personal order. According to the Daily Telegraph, the government intends to completely exclude Huawei's participation in the deployment of 5G networks in the United Kingdom by 2023 and stop using the company's products in the country's communications infrastructure.
One cannot rule out that Prime Minister Johnson's stance was influenced by the Chinese leadership's growing distrust in Western countries amid the COVID-19 coronavirus and preparations for the conclusion of an important trade agreement between Britain and the United States. It should be assumed that London's altered position towards Huawei was influenced by Washington's threats, the gravity of which was once again recalled by Senator Tom Cotton last week.