Sweden went ahead with its 5G spectrum auction despite legal challenges from Huawei and now China is not happy.

On the surface the rhetoric coming from the Chinese state, as reported by the government-friendly Global Times, is the standard, Pavlovian vow of retribution we’ve come to expect from the Chinese Communist Party whenever it doesn’t get its own way. But there are a few hints that it might be more than bluster and bluff this time.

Having made the obligatory, redundant vow to “take all necessary measures”, a Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesperson said the following to Chinese press: “We urge Sweden to immediately correct its approach, considering the overall position of economic and trade cooperation between the two countries, and meet China halfway to find a workable solution.”

One interpretation of that coded statement could be: “Nice telecoms vendor you’ve got there, Sweden, it would be a shame if it had an accident in China.” This, of course, is the matter that has been giving Ericsson CEO nightmares and forcing him into the counter-intuitive position of lobbying his own government on behalf of Huawei.

The spokesperson went on to complain about violations of WTO and international rules, which is a bit rich coming from China but may still be accurate, and if it is then what does that mean for all ther other bans?. So will China actually do something this time, or just keep threatening? A reciprocal ban on Ericsson in China would appear to be the WMD option, so it seems more likely that we will see more symbolic, token measures taken first, if at all.