Monday, 14 June 2021

Biden pressures UAE to drop Huawei or potentially miss out on fighter jets

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Friday 11 June 21

Sources suggest that Biden wants to see Huawei equipment removed from networks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) within four years, using a potential sale of $23 billion in F-35 jets and drones as leverage

The presidency of Donald Trump saw the US go on a major strategic charm offensive around the world, trying to see China’s Huawei excluded from national 5G networks on the grounds of national security. Coupled with ongoing sanctions against the Chinese vendor, this strategy quickly bore fruit in a number of markets and, while many governments refused to implement a complete ban, Huawei’s prospects dwindled in much of Europe. However, in the Middle East, convincing governments to abandon Huawei…

The presidency of Donald Trump saw the US go on a major strategic charm offensive around the world, trying to see China’s Huawei excluded from national 5G networks on the grounds of national security. Coupled with ongoing sanctions against the Chinese vendor, this strategy quickly bore fruit in a number of markets and, while many governments refused to implement a complete ban, Huawei’s prospects dwindled in much of Europe.

However, in the Middle East, convincing governments to abandon Huawei, on whom many of their operators were heavily reliant, was a more difficult task. 

For the UAE, one of the US’s major allies in the region, discussions under Trump appeared to go relatively well, according to sources. However, ambiguous language insisted upon by the UAE officials in the final deal with the US meant that Huawei would avoid a total ban.

Now, anonymous sources are suggesting that new president Joe Biden is taking up his predecessor’s mantle in the discussion, looking to have the UAE remove Huawei equipment from its networks over the next four years. 

Emirati officials have seemingly responded by arguing that the timeframe is unfeasible, as well as raising the lack of cost-effective alternatives as a major barrier. As a result, US officials are now discussing the potential of replacing the Huawei equipment with one of Huawei’s more favoured rivals, such as Samsung, Nokia, or Ericsson. 

Part of the issue here is that, despite the US’s long-standing political ties with the UAE, when it comes to economics, the Middle Eastern nation has increasingly found itself aligned with China in recent years. China represents their largest trading partner, with the UAE doing more than double the business with the Eastern nation than they do with the US. 

Just five days ago, Huawei announced that it would work with the UAE to establish the country as a “globally trusted digital oasis”, noting that additional cybersecurity was of the utmost importance to the UAE due to its relative prosperity making it a major target for cyber criminals. 

“Huawei is always trying to do more and increase its security investment in this region to support various PPP projects that we have committed,” said Aloysius Cheang, Huawei’s Chief Security Officer. “Most of the cyber criminals are motivated by quick financial gains. Due to the presence of many high-worth targets in the Middle East, this region is always on the radar of cyber criminals.”

While it is not clear exactly how much this scheme will see Huawei invest in the UAE, the company’s commitment to an ongoing partnership is clear to see.

But the US is not without its own leverage in this discussions. The UAE is in the process of purchasing $23 billion-worth of F-35 jets and drones from the US, with the deal scheduled to be closed in 2026 or 2027. Biden announced a review of this deal when he first took office, citing the UAE’s reliance on Huawei and China technology in general as a concern. 

Thus, the UAE finds itself between something of a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it is economically reliant on China and its operators are largely committed to working with Huawei. On the other, its political and military relationship with the US could sour if their attitude towards Huawei does not change. 

 

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