BRASILIA – As Huawei is pioneering the next-generation of telecommunications, specifically 5G technology which will bring faster internet, support autonomous cars and other futuristic applications, it has been targeted by the United States in its trade war with China and has become a politically sensitive issue. The U.S. argues that its allies, including the Latin American Giant country Brazil, should not use products from the Chinese giant under so-called security claims. In mid-May, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Huawei and its subsidiaries for allegedly threatening national security, which has since prevented the Chinese company from buying components from U.S. manufacturers. This move has back- fired since Huawei announced on Thursday that it has already replaced parts it formerly needed from the U.S.
However, what does this mean for states like Brazil that traditionally have good relations with both the U.S. and China? In March 2020, Brazil will host an auction for the distribution of its 5G network, an auction that the Latin America CTO of the Finnish Company Nokia, Wilson Cardoso, described as the world’s largest by the amount up for bid.
As Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is often touted as the “Tropical Trump,” it would be assumed that he would submit to U.S. demands for Huawei not to be permitted to participate in the auction. However, this was not the case with Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourão saying in June that his country does not plan to ban Huawei from providing 5G equipment to telecoms, suggesting that Brazil is playing a careful balancing act between the U.S., its strongest ally, and China, its largest economic partner and fellow BRICS member.
With the U.S. and China engaged in a trade war, Trump has been calling upon his allies, especially in Latin America, a region that the U.S. has described as its “backyard” since at least the mid-1800’s, to not use Huawei’s technology. In an attempt to persuade countries not to use Huawei’s 5G technology, the U.S. created a mythology that China’s 5G technology was a covert operation for the country to spy on other countries.
Trump told Bolsonaro during the latter’s visit to the White House earlier this year that Huawei was a security threat. With Australia and New Zealand already banning Huawei from building 5G networks in their countries, and with Japan announcing plans that it will stop trading with Huawei, the Brazilian Vice President assured to the Valor Economico newspaper that Brazil had no reason to distrust Huawei and that his country needs the technology to help its development.
This in turn also does not mean that Huawei will win the auction, especially with Sweden’s Ericsson and Nokia also having factories in São Paulo, their own 5G technology, building experience and announcing their interests in the Brazilian tender. But what it does demonstrate is that not all of the U.S.’ traditional allies are heeding the call against Huawei. What this does signify is that the U.S. is losing influence over its so-called Latin American “backyard,” especially as China’s expands the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) into Latin America and Brazilian-Chinese relations continue to grow. It is for this reason that the U.S. is resisting all efforts for Brazil to receive Chinese technology.
The U.S. since 1823 has followed the Monroe Doctrine, a cornerstone of the country’s foreign policy and enunciated by President James Monroe. The doctrine outlines that any state outside of the Americas who attempts to control any country in the Western Hemisphere, would be viewed as a hostile force against the U.S. This was effectively an announcement that the Americas would be the U.S. zone of influence and control.
As Brazil is the largest, most populated and biggest economy in Latin America, it is seen as the gateway to the vast natural riches of South America, especially in the Amazon. With the U.S. losing its hegemonic influence over Brazil, it will be a significant blow to the U.S.’ wider unilateralism in Latin America. However, just because Brazil has not complied to U.S. demands does not mean that it is now a staunch Chinese ally either. Rather, Brazil continues a careful balancing act to not overly antagonize the U.S. in its prospering economic relations with China. What is certain, although Bolsonaro is dubbed the “Tropical Trump,” he certainly does not follow his every move and demand.
As the BRI continues to transform the global economic system and 5G technology will forever change the way we conduct business, education and communication, the U.S. failing to steer its most important Latin American ally from Chinese technology indicates that the Monroe Doctrine is being directly challenged through economic and technological means. Although China continues a path of economic development through peaceful methods and the utilization of a ‘no-strings attached’ policy, the U.S. would view this as a challenge to its dominance over the region. However, with China being the largest trading partner of Brazil, and the second largest in all of Latin America after the U.S., it is seen why the North American country is desperately attempting to steer their Brazilian partners away from Chinese 5G technology as it represents a defiance to U.S. demands and consolidates China’s flourishing economic relations in the U.S.’ “backyard.”