But it remains unclear if the steps involving Huawei and others will achieve Washington’s objective. Chinese firms will still control much of Asia’s traffic, and that means calls, data and searches will still move through Chinese switching systems. At best, the U.S. moves can make it harder for China’s leaders to cut off communications in times of conflict. But it cannot protect the United States from what Sue Gordon, the former deputy director of national intelligence, called the process of “living in a dirty network.”
Still, Robert B. Blair, a senior Commerce Department official who until recently served as the Trump White House’s chief telecommunications adviser, told a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday that “we scored a major victory” with Britain’s decision.
In Britain, officials warned its ban would add significant costs, and delay the rollout of 5G by around two years. The new 5G wireless systems must be built atop existing networks that Huawei had a major role in constructing. In setting a 2027 deadline, the British government said moving any faster to remove Huawei gear would produce a greater risk to the security and resilience of the network.
The ban does not apply to smartphones and other consumer products made by Huawei, or equipment used in 2G, 3G and 4G networks.
Many see the Huawei dispute as foreshadowing future conflicts, with other prominent companies becoming entangled. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was considering actions against Chinese apps, including the hugely popular social media service TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese internet company.
Britain’s decision to bar Huawei will put pressure on other European countries. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is being urged to keep the company out of a new 5G network, but is weighing the economic fallout for German automakers, for whom China is a critical market.
“If Huawei is stopped in its tracks, that does represent a very important inflection point for China’s ability to achieve its objectives,” said Nigel Inkster, a senior adviser at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London who has written a book on the technology battle between the United States and China.