What do 5G and the Chinese telecom-gear maker Huawei have to do with the escalating trade war between the US and China? In a word: everything. 5G, the next generation of wireless, will not only allow you to download an entire season of Stranger Things in minutes, but also serve as the foundation to support the next generation of infrastructure, including billions of internet-connected devices powering smart cities, cool new VR and AR applications and driverless cars.
Naturally, President Donald Trump wants the US to lead in 5G.
What’s at stake is more than just bragging rights; the outcome of the 5G race is likely to determine whether the US will continue to maintain its technological edge and shape geopolitics for the next couple of decades or if it’ll cede that control to China, which sees technological dominance as a way to become a world superpower.
In the middle of it all is Huawei. A year ago, most Americans had likely never heard of the company. Now it’s in the news nearly every day as a centerpiece of the US-China trade battle. Huawei is a dominant supplier in the 5G market. But national security experts say the company’s close ties to the Chinese government could be dangerous for the US and its allies, because its gear could be used for espionage or to shut down critical communications networks during some future conflict.
Huawei is also emblematic of a bigger issue the US is grappling with. As China tries to transition from a country known for making toys and cheap plastic tchotchkes to one that leads in advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, robotics and 5G, it’s adhering to a state-led industrial policy that US intelligence officials say relies on intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers, cyberespionage and discriminatory treatment of foreign investment, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
It’s these concerns over unfair trade practices that have led to Trump’s tariffs on the import of Chinese goods and the blocking of Huawei and other Chinese tech companies from access to US markets.