Better understanding of China would ease fears about Huawei
- The country’s technology leader is no different from rivals Apple and Samsung, but has found it difficult to counter Western claims that its equipment is being used for spying
The flurry of charges thrown at the Chinese technology leader Huawei and its subsidiaries by the United States are as yet not backed by evidence, but their intent is plain. President Donald Trump sees China as a threat to American economic, military and technological dominance and the prominence of the firm makes for an easy target. He contends that its alleged connections to the Communist Party-led government make its products a national security risk, a belief that has prompted a growing number of US allies to join his country in imposing bans. They are creating a dangerous situation by sowing unjustified fear that China and its citizens are a global threat.
Huawei is no different from technology giants such as Apple and Samsung; it is a private company competing in a global market. But the time founder Ren Zhengfei spent as an engineer with the People’s Liberation Army and Beijing’s rules that technology firms have to share their data if requested make it difficult to counter claims that its equipment is being used for spying. Being a leader in the next generation of communications, 5G, and the second-largest producer of smartphones puts it in American cross hairs. The 23 charges, which include criminal claims against Ren’s daughter and Huawei chief financial officer, Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, who is on bail in Canada and sought by the US under an extradition treaty, involve money laundering, fraud, conspiracy and intellectual property theft.
Evidence will have to be presented in court and Huawei has denied the charges. But the company has already been found guilty by the US and a growing number of countries that have banned use of its 5G technology in their networks, national security being cited as the reason. There has been no such concern among the more than 170 nations using Huawei equipment.
Beijing has never been reticent about using American telecommunications technology, which equally could be claimed to be collecting data on behalf of Washington. There would also seem to be a double standard, as highlighted by CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who revealed US technology companies had expressed a willingness to work with the country’s spy agencies. For the West, though, there is a perceived significant difference; its data collection is about security and fighting terrorism, while Beijing seems more intent on spying on opponents.
Also at play is a deep-seated mistrust of communist systems of government. Beijing is not helping its cause by arresting Western citizens on national security grounds in what is perceived as retaliation. Assuaging the fears will be difficult given the prejudice and rivalry. Ordinary citizens should make up their own minds, though, through their experience of using Chinese technology and better understanding China’s history and culture.