In recent years Huawei has emerged as a key market player in the telecommunication industry. The Chinese tech giant has recently dominated the news, as Western countries such as the US and the UK are banning the implementation of their 5G networks, due to fears that China could use 5G networks to their advantage. The lack of transparency from the country has meant many nations are hesitant to allow them to establish themselves in the West. These anxieties are evident in the New York Times’s statement that “whoever dominates these fifth-generation networks will have an economic intelligence and military edge for decades to come.” in a provocatively titled podcast ‘Why Controlling 5G Could Mean Controlling the World’.
The high focus on 5G is largely because of its perceived influence on shaping the future, of which many countries are vying to gain control of. Western fears stem from a concern technology created and used by Huawei could be used for spyware and gathering intelligence, thus posing a threat to national security. The National Intelligence Law has only served to increase tensions, stating organizations must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work”, as reported by the BBC. This legislation reveals the West’s speculative attitude and hesitancy to trust Huawei, which is only exacerbated by the founder’s 9 year history in the army, and membership of the Chinese Communist party.
The United Kingdom is the latest country to impose a ban on Huawei, demanding that all equipment be removed from their network by 2027 according to sdxcentral. Existing government restrictions on how their equipment can be used in their network came into place after it had been flagged as a ‘high risk vendor’, as stated by the National Cyber Security Center.
These developments can be heavily linked to the ongoing US-China trade war. The Chinese government has repeatedly cited that these constant bans are related to the US feeling threatened by China’s growth[MC1] as noted by CNN Business. As reported by Forbes, “Huawei has been in the crosshairs of the Trump administration for its role as China’s flagship technology company and its perceived close ties with Beijing”. Furthermore, the Trump administration has recently moved to ban the use of TikTok and WeChat in the US because they are Chinese applications, and they fear the ties they have with the Chinese government according to BBC.
The United States was represented by Vice President Mike Pence at the Munich Security conference, held in February of 2020. Issues were flagged surrounding Huawei at the conference, asking for America’s allies to “be vigilant and to reject an enterprise that would compromise the integrity of our communications technology on our national security systems[MC2] .” as mentioned on the New York Times podcast; he further continued this negative narrative, adding that they “cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East. Pence’s comments reveal how the US is threatened not only by China’s growing power, but also the potential that they may overtake Western capabilities.
Of course, there is a cost to all of these delays. As the UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden stated, the Huawei ban will add costs of up to £2 billion, due to the removal and replacement of existing Huawei equipment from the networks. Though there are other competitors beginning to take advantage of 5g technology, Huawei is clearly in the lead.
Ultimately, the narrative is clear. Countries in the West feels threatened by the powers the Chinese government could have if Huawei implements the 5G network, especially due to their lack of transparency. However, this back and forth also makes the West look like hypocrites, as they also engage in surveillance activity internationally through their respective intelligence agencies.