Huawei, the telecommunications company based in the People's Republic of China (PRC), has presented the governments of several middle powers with a policy dilemma. On the one hand, Huawei's affordable 5G network technology is attractive to telecommunications operators in these countries, which do not have domestic producers of this equipment. On the other hand, the U.S. government and intelligence agencies in other countries maintain that Huawei gear presents intolerable network security risks, a charge that the PRC government and Huawei forcefully reject as they insist Huawei merits access to foreign markets. Facing the question of whether and how to allow the installation of Huawei's 5G equipment in their domestic networks, the governments of Japan, the United Kingdom, and Germany have been caught between the competing demands of the two rivalrous superpowers and faced internal divisions among communities of government experts. At first glance, Japan, the UK, and Germany each appear to have responded to the Huawei dilemma in a different way. The Japanese government moved quickly and without formal announcement to exclude Huawei from its market, while publicly denying a ban. The UK government initially allowed Huawei to supply some of its national 5G infrastructure, but then reversed itself to ban the company's equipment outright after a U.S. regulatory change. The German government has yet to officially ban Huawei but has taken successive steps to curtail the PRC company's continued involvement in its domestic networks. In spite of their apparent differences, the three national responses to the Huawei dilemma share a fundamental commonality: All amount to 'non-decision decisions' on the question of whether and how to allow Huawei to supply domestic 5G networks. In one way or another, each government avoided making policy decisions that were either explicit, definitive, or singular on the issue, but nonetheless reduced the likelihood of Huawei's participation in its domestic 5G infrastructure. After developing the concept of a 'non-decision decision,' we explain why these maneuvers are not isolated responses to a specific policy conundrum but may presage a mode of middle power coping with competing demands from two increasingly rivalrous superpowers.


History and Political Science

Keywords and Phrases

China; Huawei; middle powers

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

1474-0060; 1468-1099

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


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Publication Date

09 Jun 2023