Closing the Technological Iron Curtain

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Closing the Technological Iron Curtain

To win the Sino-American Cold War, it is imperative that the United States preempt China’s rise to technological parity in areas as diverse as telecommunications, artificial intelligence, biotech, and nano-tech.  Because of its scale, maturity, and ubiquity, telecom supremacy is a particularly urgent battlefield on which America must win.  To disrupt China’s ascendancy in this industry, the United States is feverishly working with its allies to impede China by using the tools of both supply and demand. 

Impeding demand means ensuring that the U.S. and its allies exclude Chinese products from their next-generation infrastructure.  In July, the UK government decided to ban the use of Huawei equipment in its 5G mobile communications networks. The decision reverses the UK’s previous openness to the Chinese mobile-equipment giant; that position had put it at odds with its closest allies, the so-called Five Eyes.  The other four members of the Five Eyes alliance — Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States - had long expressed serious security reservations about Huawei equipment.  Particularly because this equipment could be used to install backdoors for Chinese espionage. 

Why the change of heart?  Until recently, the British government was basing its security risk-assessment on a narrow set of technical considerations.  That risk-assessment largely hinged on Huawei software’s robustness with respect to malicious third-party attacks.  The UK did not rigorously evaluate the threat from espionage backdoors.  Furthermore, the British government faced a growing sense that Britain could not afford to stand apart from its closest allies on such a sensitive matter.

Now, after Britain’s decision, the remaining Western holdouts, notably France and Germany, are expected to quickly fall into line with the Five Eyes.  So too is India, which was potentially Huawei’s largest non-Western customer.

Furthermore, countries not historically suspicious of China may now follow suit, because they do not want to be trapped using mobile equipment running on technical standards different from those in the main OECD countries. That potentially leaves China with only a few relatively poor foreign customers such as Russia and a motley crew of Asian and African states.

From a marketing standpoint, Huawei, which operates as a de facto branch of the People’s Liberation Army, has had a cataclysmic “reversal of fortunes.”  As recently as the summer of 2019, it looked like the company was poised to take over the mobile world—on a scale that would resemble the market power of Apple, Google, and Samsung combined...

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