04.06.2019 Author: Ulson Gunnar

US War on Huawei is a War on Tech Sovereignty


Unable to compete on equal terms with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, the United States and the corporations that influence its domestic and foreign policy have decided instead to simply cut Huawei off from its many monopolies including chip manufacturing and mobile phone operating systems.

But US measures come at a time when Huawei is already well on its way to unseating US tech monopolies. US measures may only spur Huawei (and many other companies and countries) to further work toward creating alternatives to current US tech monopolies and establishing enduring technological sovereignty from US control.

US Cites False Pretext to Cripple a Competitor 

The US Department of Commerce claims:

…Huawei is engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interest. This information includes the activities alleged in the Department of Justice’s public superseding indictment of Huawei, including alleged violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), conspiracy to violate IEEPA by providing prohibited financial services to Iran, and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation of those alleged violations of U.S. sanctions.

Evidence (as is the case with most US allegations) is lacking, yet US measures prohibiting “the sale or transfer of American technology” to Huawei coincidentally gives a boost to US tech companies unable to compete against Huawei in free and fair global markets.

Fortune, in its article, “Huawei Wants to Play Nice With Google and Microsoft, But Has Its ‘Last Resort’ Ready,” elaborates further on what this ban means to Huawei.

Microsoft removed Huawei laptops from its online store, while chip manufacturers including Qualcomm, Intel, Nvidia, Lattice and ARM are poised to stop supplying Huawei assembly lines.

Google is also reportedly preparing to cut Huawei off from its Android mobile phone operating system. Android and Apple’s iOS, both US-based, currently dominate the markets and without access to either, Huawei would face significant challenges, giving US tech companies a chance to catch up. This, more than any sort of ambiguous “security threat” explains the motivations of the US Department of Commerce.

Self-Inflicted Wounds Amid a Senseless Fight

US bans targeting Huawei will not be painless for US corporations involved. Huawei currently occupies second place, just behind Samsung, in the smartphone market. Depriving Huawei of US-made components will deprive US corporations of associated profits at least in the short-term. How fast other corporations fill the void left behind by Huawei, if a void appears, is hard to say. If US corporations are counting on US corporations and US-friendly nations and the respective telecom industries filling a potential void, it is a long bet.

It is clear that Huawei, if accusations by the US of its close association with the Chinese government are true, will have the support, resources and impetus required to begin developing alternatives to Microsoft, US chip designs and Google’s Android operating system. In the long-term, US corporations may find themselves faced by renewed competition, not only in terms of smartphones this time, but also in terms of everything in and on them.

Articles like, “Can Huawei make a phone without US parts?,” and “Huawei developed its own operating systems in case it’s banned from using Android and Windows,” go into detail regarding all the alternatives Huawei already has at its disposal and possible future alternatives that will further mitigate US bans.

US bans aimed at maliciously targeting and eliminating competitors will only make these competitors stronger in the long run. US bans aimed at Chinese tech companies will also give other companies in other industries and even in other countries pause for thought when depending on the US for anything. This may be the beginning of a global move to hedge against other unpredictable moves made by the US Department of Commerce and US corporations.

It may also be the beginning of a move toward greater global technological sovereignty.

Technological Sovereignty 

For as important as technology is to a nation’s economy and security, depending on foreign corporations to manufacturer and use it seems recklessly irresponsible.

This realization has prompted many nations to begin building up their own domestic alternatives and depending less on foreign corporations for their technological infrastructure.

Russia, for example, has its own mobile phone operating system called Aurora it runs government devices on. Russia has also passed legislation to begin creating an independent Internet that can operate on its own entirely within Russia. Russia also has its own social media network, VK, as an alternative to US-based Facebook as well as its own alternative to Google, called Yandex.

Russian journalist Dmitry Kiselyov (video) compared a nation’s ability to develop and deploy its own technology to having a light switch either outside or inside a bathroom. When outside the bathroom, anyone for any reason, including spite, can switch the lights off leaving the occupant helplessly in the dark. With the light switch inside the bathroom, the occupant has full control.

This point rests at the very center of technological sovereignty.

Russia’s moves illustrate a trend toward treating a nation’s information space and technological capabilities with as much seriousness as it treats its physical territory and defense industry.

For China and Chinese companies, this process is also well underway, with US measures likely only to temporarily set back China’s rise as a global leader in technology. If anything it is most likely helping pave the way for China’s technological leadership to be more complete and even less dependent on the US.

The US has an opportunity to use its technology as a means of developing constructive and lasting partnerships as well as ensuring US influence over technology used globally, but instead it seeks to use its advantages as a means of coercion.

The US “flipping the bathroom lights off” on China is a warning for anyone else around the world who might become targets of US spite. Nations going along with US bans against China will only make it that much easier for the US to target other nations, any nation, in the future. For as important as technology is, there is no nation big or small that can afford to allow the US to continue wielding such power uncontested.

The US war on Huawei represents the opening salvo of a much wider US war on technological sovereignty. It is a war the world must win and a crucial building block toward establishing multipolarism in favor of America’s current, unipolar international order.

Gunnar Ulson, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.