We are publishing the extended answer that Andrew Korybko gave to Indian journalist Pushkar Banakar from the New Indian Express in response to the latter’s question about the grand strategic consequences of Western countries banning Huawei from building their 5G technology infrastructure.
Many countries have banned Huawei or are under pressure to do so by the US under the pretext that this company is secretly operating as a front for Chinese intelligence. That claim hasn’t been publicly proven, but the rhetoric used in making this case can also be applied against American companies as well. The narrative is that Huawei is compelled to surrender information about its users to the Chinese government upon request if asked to do so for national security reasons, which could in theory also occur vis-a-vis American tech companies and their government too. Furthermore, Snowden’s revelations proved that the US has already been spying not only on its own people, but also the entire world.
In any case, moving beyond rhetoric and back into the realm of reality, it can be said that the narrative against Huawei is being weaponized for strategic purposes. The US understands the importance of 5G technology for accelerating the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR) that many have also referred to as the “Internet of Things” (IoT, the ubiquity of the internet in all walks of life through its connection to practically every type of device imaginable). 5G technology also has important military-intelligence applications as well and will predictably be one of the main drivers of innovation across the 21st century.
By pushing its primary competitor out of major markets, both existing and emerging, the US hopes to capture them and ensure that it retains full surveillance control over their governments and people. American companies can’t compete with Chinese ones because the latter are more affordable and technologically advanced, which is why the US government has had to intervene in manipulating the marketplace through its information warfare narrative against Huawei which, as was mentioned, can just as easily be applied against its own companies for the earlier explained reason.
This “tech race” risks adding another layer of “bipolarity” to International Relations wherein the world is split into American- and Chinese-aligned halves along the geopolitical, economic, and now even technological axes in the New Cold War between the two superpowers. China never thought that Trump would win, nor that he’d actually follow through on his campaign promise of cracking down on the People’s Republic all across the world, which is why it’s having difficulty responding to these recent developments.
The People’s Republic had hitherto assumed that it could continue to use the rules of the US’ own post-Old Cold War “Liberal/New World Order” against it in order to expand its influence worldwide, having not foreseen the scenario of the US itself one day dismantling the same global system that it helped create since the end of World War II like Trump’s presently doing. This places China on the strategic defensive, but the country has proven time and again that it’s capable of flexibly and rapidly adapting to new challenges, aided by its centralized decision-making structure which gives it a comparative advantage relative to most other countries.
Going forward, it’s predicted that China won’t suffer too much in the short-term, whether geopolitically or economically, so long as it manages to entrench its influence more firmly in the countries where the US has been unable to seriously compete with it. These are mostly the states of the “Global South” (“Third World”), barring India which has recently pivoted towards the US (“Global West”) for geopolitical reasons related to its shared grand strategic objective of “containing” China together with the US and its allies.
China’s greatest advantage is that it can offer low-interest loans without any political strings attached to the many emerging markets that are desperately in need of this assistance, which endears them more towards Beijing and naturally predisposes them towards purchasing its affordable and high-quality 5G technology. The US has less levers of influence over those countries because of its horrible track record in taking advantage of them through the IMF and World Bank, among other instruments that it’s historically exploited for hegemonic purposes.
Western countries haven’t born the brunt of such tactics as intensely as non-Western ones have, which also explains why the former are more trusting of the US while the latter are more suspicious of it and consequently feel closer to China. In addition, Western countries’ systems of governance are closer to the US’, which makes them susceptible to America’s other information warfare narrative fearmongering about China’s grand strategic intentions, which Washington hints are tyrannical, anti-democratic, and against their ways of life.
This explains why Western countries prefer to be spied upon by the US than by China (in the event that they believe the US’ information warfare narrative alleging that Huawei is secretly a front for Chinese intelligence). Since 5G technology is inevitable, spying through these means might be too, and the US is pressing them to choose, it was predictable that they’d take America’s side over China’s. While this might worsen their relations with the People’s Republic a bit, it’s unclear whether the damage is irreparable since both sides have an interest in continuing and even strengthening their trade and investment ties, though the post-COVID trend of restructuring global supply chains might end up damaging them in the medium- and long-terms much more than those countries’ decisions against purchasing China’s 5G technology.