US, China And The Geopolitics Of 5G

There’s no denying how faster internet has made our lives simpler: be it booking a cab, ordering food or just surfing on random websites without having to wait a lifetime for the page to load. This is why everyone so lovingly embraced the progression from 3G to 4⁠ – and many would do again for the next upgrade to 5G. 

How 5G Is Different From Past Upgrades

Unlike past upgrades, 5G is proving out to be different. Instead of just being a promise for faster internet, this technology has turned into a major bone of contention between the two world powers⁠ – one established and the other still emerging. 

For the past few  theyears US and China have been engaged in a race over 5G, with each trying to get as many allies on its side as the acquisition and control over this technology shapes the future of cybersecurity. Unlike the days of the Cold War when the two rival camps fought for cultural, political and military influence, often trying to secure naval or air bases in satellite countries, this time things are different. 

Fighting For Technological Control

Instead, the US and China are fighting over the control of a technology while the race is led by a private company. At the forefront of it is Huawei, a Chinese tech giant⁠ – founded in 1987 by a former military man and member of the Communist Party⁠ – which  has managed to build a global footprint over the last decade

All of it was obviously visible last week when both the United Kingdom and the European Union allowed Huawei to bid for 5G rollout in their countries, to the displeasure of the US. 

Last August, Washington barred Huawei from competing from any US government contracts, months after it had placed the tech giant in an entity list of foreign companies deemed as national security threats. Since then, the United States has also been lobbying in Brussels and London to get them to treat the Chinese tech giant the same way. 

The UK And EU Choose Not To Ban Huawei

However, both the UK and EU fell short of banning Huawei from participating in 5G bidding. The former gave the permission to the Chinese company for non-critical parts while sensitive areas, such as defense systems, would be protected. 

The EU’s stance was quite similar urged member states to consider the risk profiles of vendors, without naming any company. The states would then have the right to allow or ban anyone from bidding. 

Needless to say, the US wasn’t happy. “Our view of Huawei is putting it in your system creates real risk. This is an extension of the Chinese Communist Party with a legal requirement to hand over information to the Chinese Community Party,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday during his London visit.

However, preventing any fallout from these two decisions, he said the US would work with the UK over Huawei and the two countries will find a way to resolve this difference. 

It’s All About The Money

While the US has tried to sway allies away from China and Huawei successfully in the case of Australia, Japan and New Zealand, it is unlikely to achieve the same results elsewhere. After all, it all comes down to the sophistication of technology⁠ – and its price tag – which is where the Chinese tech giant has proved to be well ahead of the rest. It makes little sense for countries, especially in the developing world to ban the most efficient player for relatively more expensive options, keeping in view the economic promise 5G offers in terms of connectivity and the economic expansion that can help promote.