By The Nation
The cybersecurity debate centred on Chinese tech giant Huawei might seem like a controllable blaze at the moment, but it could
easily burn a massive hole through global diplomatic relations. The
controversy is being viewed in a far more serious light now that the United States has stressed to Germany it intends to limit
intelligence-sharing with any
countries that let Huawei build their 5G communications networks.
It has become an issue involving not just trade and national security but also politics at the highest level. Ideological opposites China and the US are now at loggerheads economically as well, a clash already having far-reaching impacts around the world. Washington’s concerns about intelligence threats stem from a combination of Cold War-style paranoia and Huawei’s perceived ability to make any device a tool for espionage.
If technological warfare breaks out, the winner will be certified as the most powerful country on the planet. Speedy 5G systems give their owners a major advantage in such a fight. China is pinning its hopes on Huawei getting a significant share in the global spread of 5G, and the US is doing all it can to stop that
happening. Its leverage comes mainly in the form of a threat to reduce the privileges it grants other countries. But not only small nations are relying on Huawei – some of America’s major allies are admirers of the Chinese expertise.
So the German government has been warned in writing that its access to valuable US intelligence could be curtailed if it awards 5G contracts to Huawei. This came in response to Berlin’s refusal to bar any company from bidding on the contracts. Chancellor Angela Merkel has met the US threat with defiance.
Indeed, Washington does not appear to have the upper hand in this latest round of “with us or against us”. Huawei’s advanced technology is becoming pervasive, leaving America’s allies to decide between appeasing the US or postponing their leap to all the benefits that 5G brings.
Even US media have acknowledged that Huawei technology is widely deployed by several small but federally subsidised telecoms in America itself. They buy the cheaper Chinese-made hardware to cap their cell towers. In some cases, according to CNN, these firms
provide exclusive coverage in rural areas close to military bases.
US efforts to halt Huawei’s march are growing increasingly complicated, worsening trade friction with China and straining relations with allies. Some countries hold the view that Washington is trying to stall Huawei’s growth for the sake of its own political and business interests rather than out of concern over espionage. China to them looks like the underdog in this fistfight. The US didn’t help matters by asking Canada to act on a warrant and arrest Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s deputy chairwoman, in Vancouver over the firm’s alleged violations of Iran sanctions. Canada didn’t help matters by obliging. Meng’s extradition to the US is stalled amid legal proceedings.
The US has also pressed Britain, Australia, Poland, the European Union, the Philippines and other countries to keep Huawei out in the cold. Australia, sharing security concerns, has done so and New Zealand has taken some action against the tech firm. Germany is resisting,
however, ensuring that the controversy will not end anytime soon. When international trade and security issues collide with politics, we have the makings of a potentially disastrous global time bomb.