It is obvious that the United States is harassing China on several fronts: commercial pressures, trade threats, diplomatic maneuvers to block the progress of infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road initiative and at a technological level via the boycott and restrictions against the tech giant Huawei.
These are some of the modalities of the strategic competition between great powers, without involving the direct use of hard military power, which we could well consider a Cold War 2.0.
The events of past few months are not surprising as the advances of the US government against Huawei show. They include the arrest at the US behest in Canada of its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of the company, on accusations of espionage, as well as boycotts and diplomatic pressure to slow Huawei’s advances in several countries.
Huawei is the spearhead of the Chinese technological advance. While not formally having direct links with the Chinese government, the company has a prominent role in the Chinese strategic technological plan Made in China 2025 because of its development and implementation of 5G networks, a key part of the plan, expected soon.
The strategic approach of the government under Xi Jinping is to change the Chinese productive matrix to position the country in the forefront of the technologically advanced sectors of the modern economy including artificial intelligence, biotechnology, robotics, automation, the internet of things, telecommunications, software, renewable energies, and the element that is in the most interest for us to analyze, 5G – the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications targeting higher data rates, artificial intelligence, cost reduction, higher system capacity and massive device connectivity.
Washington doesn’t feel comfortable with Chinese advances. The consulting firm Eurasia Group argues that the installation of 5G networks will involve one of the biggest changes in our time, comparing its appearance with major breaks in technological history such as electricity. Some specialists, websites and the press have coined the term “Sputnik moment” by comparing the potential impact of competition for 5G development with the space race in the Cold War at the time.
The technology, in addition to allowing faster network data is designed to allow the development of smart cities, automation, improvements in health, and military advances.
The US has put pressure on several of its allies Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Great Britain and Canada among others to block Huawei’s advances in services and investments in their countries, while restricting the purchase of Huawei’s products and services on North American soil.
While it is true that several countries could give in from the pressure from Washington to encircle Huawei and restrict its services and products, many others, especially those with China as their main trading partner, are being seduced by the economic possibilities, and in this specific case, technology offered by China and its companies.
What it implies is a worldwide competition between American diplomatic muscle and Chinese sweet money.
And also in commercial terms, the progress of Huawei into the top of the tech companies is remarkable, due to its production methods and its business model, having surpassed, for example, Apple among the largest companies that sell mobile phones, being only second to Samsung.
Does anyone remember free trade? Competition? What’s up with that? Or was it just a trick? It seems that in the global economic game, the US throws the chessboard away when it loses, and uses the geopolitical muscle, without any problem, following the Groucho’s Marx doctrine: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
The fears about Huawei’s technology are hiding a power struggle, a hegemonic dispute over technology. So far the accusations of espionage against this corporation perhaps are valid in theoretical sense, but unprovable in facts, leaving them as mere speculation. The accusations by the US against Huawei of the threat of espionage are unbelievable and hypocritical in some sense, a speech marked by a double standard… Who represents the threat?
This is the same US that nowadays advises its allies and other countries to protect themselves against the alleged threat of Huawei’s espionage in favor of its government, the same country that spied on its own allies, if we remember the cases that Assange and Snowden brought to light.
Technological competition is another chessboard of this new multilevel and multidimensional 21st Century Great Game, where the great actors move their pieces.
5G is the focal point for a global rush to dominate the next wave of technological development – a race many policymakers in Washington worry that the US is already losing, a major reason for their aggressive stance against Huawei. The strategic competition for advanced, high technologies such as 5G, and innovations in the fourth industrial revolution, will mark the platform for action of the great powers of the 21st century.
The technological new cold war between the two largest economies and powers in the world shows no signs of diminishing, nor the strategic competition. Who will win this Great Game? The geostrategic chessboard is already deployed. The players have moved their first pawns.
Juan Martin González Cabañas is a senior researcher and analyst at the Dossier Geopolitico