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Notebook Politics

A tech cold war

A Huawei retail center (FrankHoermann/SVEN SIMON/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)


A tech cold war

The U.S. blacklists Chinese tech giant Huawei as a trade war intensifies

Tensions between the United States and China rose in mid-May after the Trump administration placed Chinese telecom giant Huawei on a trade blacklist over espionage concerns. In response, Google said it would suspend business with the second-largest smartphone maker.

Two days later, the U.S. Commerce Department delayed the ban, giving tech companies permission to work with Huawei for another 90 days in order to keep smartphones up-to-date and secure.

Huawei smartphones are powered by Google’s Android system, with Google’s apps preloaded onto the phones Huawei sells internationally. Without an extension of the deadline, starting Aug. 19 Google will stop providing hardware, software, and technical support to Huawei phones. New versions of the phones will not access popular apps such as Google Play, Gmail, YouTube, and the Chrome browser. Huawei would only be allowed to use the public version of Android through an open-source license.

The ban would have little effect on Huawei users in China, as the country censors Google, but would affect Huawei’s large European market.

In a way, the United States is taking an approach China has long employed: China’s Great Firewall has blocked major U.S. tech companies from entering the country while spreading China’s homegrown tech companies overseas. Chinese tech companies still use American chips and software from companies such as Intel and Qualcomm, as Chinese companies are unable to make them.

The U.S. government is concerned that Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies could pass data from the 5G networks in other countries to the Chinese government, allowing Beijing to spy on the U.S. government, its citizens, and its companies. New Chinese security laws require companies to provide information to intelligence officials.

While Huawei claims it is a private company owned by its employees, a 2019 study found that Huawei is owned by a holding company that is 99 percent owned by a “trade union committee.” In China, these organizations are essentially owned and controlled by the government.

New Zealand and Australia have agreed to ban the company, but Britain, Germany, India, and the United Arab Emirates have refused U.S. efforts to persuade them to join the ban.

The Huawei ban comes after a breakdown in trade negotiations between the United States and China. The Trump administration increased tariffs to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and made plans to tax another $325 billion worth of additional Chinese goods. Long-term frustration exists over China’s practice of stealing U.S. intellectual property and forcing U.S. companies to transfer technology to Chinese companies in exchange for access to the Chinese market.

As tensions heightened, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV canceled scheduled programming and instead showed anti-American movies that depict Chinese soldiers fighting Americans in the Korean War, according to Hong Kong news site Inkstone. China may retaliate against the Huawei ban by cutting U.S. access to rare earth minerals, used for high-tech electronics and military equipment. On Monday, state media reported that President Xi Jinping visited a rare earth company in Jiangxi province.

Under Xi’s rule, the government has become more authoritarian, stifling religion, free speech, and dissent. Liberal economists who were once celebrated when China began to reform and open up are now silenced and barred from leaving the country. The Tiananmen Square massacre, which occurred 30 years ago in June, is still a censored topic. Remaining family members of those killed on that fateful day are still hoping and waiting for the government to investigate the massacre, punish those responsible, and clear protesters’ names.

According to Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, China’s hard-line stance is responsible for alienating the West: By refusing to revisit the Tiananmen Square massacre, it has placed itself in conflict with free nations.

“Ideology is what is really behind the trade war,” Zheng told the South China Morning Post. “The West has lost its hope on China because they think China has given up on universal values. The trade war is only an illusion—it is about conflicts of ideologies and material interests.”


Spying for China:

A U.S. federal judge sentenced former CIA agent Kevin Patrick Mallory to 20 years in prison for passing to China classified documents that “contained unique identifiers for human sources who had helped the United States government” in exchange for $25,000.

—This is an expanded version of the Notebook page that appears in the June 8 print issue.