Saturday, September 21, 2019

The real question in the anti-Huawei drive: Who cares?

Feb 20. 2019
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By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

2,138 Viewed

If you are an ordinary office worker, husband, wife, father, mother or young student, try reading the following two paragraphs:

“5G is more susceptible to hacking than previous networks have been because it amps up connectivity, providing hackers with more targets to infiltrate and control. This could be potentially disastrous physically, economically, politically, or financially, as intelligent machines function in a malicious manner.”


“5G technology promises to link up objects such as vehicles, factories and machines at far greater speeds than they are currently linked. Using the technology, objects will be able to communicate with each other without human intervention.”

Now answer the following questions:

Are you excited about this “new world”, or concerned? Do you want 5G to go ahead as soon as possible or not? If Huawei’s involvement in the development of 5G speeds up both responses, in other words making our daily lives easier but security harder, what would you say? You want Huawei out of the picture – thus disrupting 5G development – or you couldn’t care less?

The answers could determine the scale of Huawei’s involvement in the ongoing preparations for 5G. They may also set a new course for technological development, which has for decades been dictated by tech superpowers who wage wars and destructive espionage while ironically warning that wars and espionage are what will happen if new technologies fall into the wrong hands.

The loudest alarms are coming from the United States. Yes, of all countries. There is the thinnest of lines between security concerns and not wanting China to do well. Huawei is rooted in a country deemed by Washington a major economic and political threat. If its telecom clout keeps growing, the world order could be greatly affected.

China may be as ambitious as the United States fears, and Huawei can actually help Beijing undermine US national security using 5G mobile network technology. China, after all, is ploughing ahead on the technology. Its government has supported the development of 5G, believing it will change the world as we know it. The US government, for all its poor diplomatic and strategic moves of late on the international stage, harbours fears that are somewhat justified.

The United States’ problem is how to make the rest of the world care. It is having a tough time trying to convince countries that a spying China is more dangerous than a spying America. 

China is in the economic and technological ascendancy. Experts say China’s technology can already be used to hack into both government and private sector networks, and that 5G capability would allow the Chinese to access data faster and more easily, especially if the government practically controls the technology.

Huawei is a leader in 5G development, so much so that it bought full-page ads in New Zealand proclaiming that 5G without Huawei would be like a rugby World Cup without the All Blacks. That claim has been endorsed in the Western media, with reports that US opposition to Huawei has given 5G developers headaches since Huawei is integral to their plans.

Other Western media have highlighted “security concerns” over 5G developers’ inconvenience. Whatever the Western media are trying to project, it is against the backdrop of US-China tension that incorporates political and economic rivalry in one package. The tension has existed for decades. Only now it involves a big-name company and a technology eagerly awaited by consumers.

Development of electric vehicles has been slow because of oil and its importance to the world order, and because of the fact that consumers using petrol-fuelled cars are reluctant to change. 5G is a different case altogether, because it is wanted by consumers, and in a market where demand really drives supply.

If that market is more worried about security, the United States will win. If it doesn’t care that much, Huawei can come out on top. The latter must be hoping that the man on the street simply wants faster connections, while the former is praying that he shares its fears.

One thing is certain: The man on the street can sit back, enjoy the show and wait for the price of smartphones to plummet. Huawei is flooding overseas markets with its products, possibly to underline its “All Blacks” contention. Apple, meanwhile, is rumoured to be planning a major price-cut in overseas markets.

Whether you care about what the United States is saying or not, don’t buy anything yet while your existing phones can still make calls. Whatever it is – a trade war, or a political showdown, or a bit of both with global supremacy as the ultimate goal – a buyer’s market appears to be around the corner. 

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