German way and Huawei are not incompatible

According to a report published by Zeit Online on Monday, the German government is planning to forbid the use of components from Huawei and ZTE in parts of the country's 5G networks.

The report cited anonymous government sources as saying that the ban could include components already built into the networks, requiring operators to remove and replace them. The Chinese embassy in Germany said that, should the report be true, it is "very puzzled and strongly dissatisfied" with the decision, for which there is no basis.

But with the German government carrying out a broad re-evaluation of its relationship with China in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and concerns about dependency, Germany seems to be throwing its gloves into the ring with the United States, even though that would probably ruin its relationship with its leading trade partner.

The US government has forbidden its own companies from using components and technologies from the two Chinese telecommunications companies and has been pressuring its allies to do the same.

A German interior ministry spokesperson on Tuesday confirmed that the German government was carrying out a general review of telecom tech suppliers, but denied it was aimed at specific companies. But if Germany were to follow the US lead on Huawei and ZTE, it would mean Germany sacrificing its own interests for those of the US. Germany would pay a high price should it submit to US pressure to ban Huawei and ZTE. A report by Danish company Strand Consult points out that "restrictions on Huawei introduced now would potentially cost hundreds of millions of euros" for German operators.

German telecom operator Deutsche Telekom, for example, has significant sunk costs as it is currently Huawei's largest customer in Europe.

And it would not be just its telecommunications companies that would suffer if Germany acquiesces to the US' coercion, since those urging a ban on Huawei and ZTE in the US, Germany and elsewhere, are actually issuing an "either China or us" test. That would undoubtedly be highly damaging as Germany having given an inch would then be asked for a yard. If it bows to the US' will on Huawei and ZTE, Germany would undoubtedly face pressure to join the US' broader campaign to decouple China from the global economy.

In May 2021, the European Institute for Asian Studies published an op-ed article carrying the headline "My way or Huawei?", which pointed out that Germany "has an especially strong trading relationship with China relative to the majority of EU Member States" and it was trying to take a nonpolitical approach to economic and trade relations with China despite the political pressure being applied by the US.

Germany's way and Huawei are not incompatible. The choice is not between the US and China, but rather between being an obedient follower of the US and standing independently between the two.