In a recent interview with Fox News, Mark Green, a Republican Congressman from Tennessee, claimed that Chinese President Xi Jinping told French President Emmanuel Macron that China would supply a billion face masks to France if his country agreed to adopt Huawei’s 5G technology. The French Embassy in the United States rebutted the claim in a tweet, saying it was a total falsehood, though not in so many words. China’s Huawei is currently the world’s largest supplier of telecom equipment and second largest manufacturer of mobile phones. If you are wondering why a US politician is dragging Huawei into an allegation against China at a time when most people are worried about the Covid-19 pandemic, the reason is that the company has become a lock-on target of the US government. Washington has in recent years regarded Huawei as one of the greatest national security threats. The US case against Huawei rests on its alleged risks to both individual privacy and national security: i nformation passing through the company’s equipment will be captured by so-called back doors and given to the Chinese Communist Party, the US alleges. Washington claims a Chinese law compels any Chinese firm to provide information to Beijing, but neglects to say the US itself has similar laws. After two years of repeated accusations, no concrete evidence against Huawei has been produced. In contrast, evidence of US surveillance on other countries is widely known, after former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle on US eavesdropping activities. In the US, Huawei equipment is mostly used by rural telecom service providers because of its affordability. But that will end after US President Donald Trump signed legislation in March to bar telecom carriers from using US subsidies to buy Huawei equipment. More importantly, Huawei will not be able to sell to telecom carriers in much bigger urban markets in the US regardless of how advanced its 5G technology is and how competitive its prices are. Coronavirus: China’s investment in AI is paying off in a big way But the US is still not satisfied after blocking Huawei in its own market. Instead, it is going full throttle in its attempts to get Huawei barred from markets of its allies, mostly in Europe, and to cripple the company’s ability to conduct business and produce telecom equipment and mobile devices. To achieve the first goal, the US government has launched a very high-profile and aggressive campaign against Huawei’s 5G technology. The high-powered anti-Huawei squad includes not only Trump himself, but also Vice-President Mike Pence , National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien , Secretary of State Mike Pompeo , Secretary of Defence Mark Esper , Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and various congressmen. Amazingly, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a nemesis of Trump’s, is in sync with these anti-Huawei crusaders, not least because their cause is framed as a struggle between democracy and autocracy, or a clash of civilisations. Unfortunately for the US, this international campaign has had little success so far because few of its allies have found its arguments convincing, despite its threats to cut intelligence-sharing ties. So far, only Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” partnership, has complied with the US’ wishes. To achieve the second goal, the US government has imposed a ban on the sale of crucial US technologies – including semiconductors, chips and some of Google’s services – to Huawei. Back in May 2019, the US Commerce Department announced that it was adding Huawei on its “entity list”, meaning that the company and its subsidiaries cannot do business with US companies without US government approval. Leveraging on its leadership in certain technologies, the US is also preparing to further curb the supply of chips to Huawei, by imposing restrictions on foreign firms that use US chipmaking equipment in their supply chains. What’s behind US paranoia about Chinese phones, drones and pills? The attacks on Huawei are not confined to technology. A court battle is being fought over Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou , who was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 on US charges of bank fraud and is opposing her extradition to the US. Furthermore, lawmakers from both political parties in the US are working to limit Huawei’s access to the US financial system. If you are surprised by the lengths the US has gone to hurt Huawei, consider two likely reasons for their actions. First, the US might be worried its ability to conduct global espionage will be significantly compromised if more countries use Huawei equipment. Second, the US is behind China in 5G technology, despite being a world leader in many other fields. The faster deployment of next-generation wireless technology in China than in the US has serious implications for the countries’ technological leadership (especially with regard to automation and artificial intelligence) and international competitiveness, as well as the military balance in the world. How can we be sure these reasons are not conspiracy theories? Consider two official US documents. Both the 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defence Strategy reports identify China as one of the US’ key strategic adversaries, which seek to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model”. The Trump administration’s national security plan makes clear it will use all the tools of statecraft to protect US interests. The 2017 report says: “Economic tools – including sanctions, anti-money-laundering and anti-corruption measures, and enforcement actions – can be important parts of broader strategies to deter, coerce, and constrain adversaries.” From a broader perspective, the US attacks on Huawei are attempts to thwart China’s rise as a world power by means fair or foul. Leonard K. Cheng is president and chair professor of economics at Lingnan University Sign up now and get a 10% discount (original price US$400) off the China AI Report 2020 by SCMP Research. Learn about the AI ambitions of Alibaba, Baidu & JD.com through our in-depth case studies, and explore new applications of AI across industries. The report also includes exclusive access to webinars to interact with C-level executives from leading China AI companies (via live Q&A sessions). Offer valid until 31 May 2020.