In 2018, heads of six US intelligence committees shared their reservations over the use of China-based ZTE or Huawei equipment in telecommunication networks and warned US residents against using devices made by these companies.
Moving Against China on the Technology Playing Field
Almost immediately after that, Australia, UK, New Zealand and Canada barred the Chinese companies — especially Huawei and ZTE from participating in the development of 5G infrastructure. Meanwhile, France, UK, Germany and Japan announced they were reviewing the involvement of Chinese firms in their telecommunication network as well.
Their argument for separating supply chains — especially technology — is rooted in the influence of Chinese government on companies based out of the mainland. Take Huawei for example. An investigation into the company’s record revealed it has received around $75 billion from the Chinese government. In addition to tax breaks and subsidies, China’s government has repeatedly forced poorer countries in Asia and Africa to allow Huawei to build their critical telecommunication and surveillance infrastructure.
In 2009, the Chinese government loaned Pakistan around $124 million with zero interest to purchase surveillance system technology from China. The loan came with one condition: the job to set up the system would be done by Huawei with no competitive bidding.
Huawei’s Worldwide Reach
As per some estimates, Huawei has supplied and installed surveillance and telecommunication infrastructure in more than 40 countries around the world. And Chinese firms like Huawei are not independent as the definition of the word goes, the government can at any time demand access to company servers for intelligence gathering. The line between what is private and what is public in China is blurry.
And this lies at the heart of the splintering technosphere in the world, with China on one side and Western countries on the other. Countries like the US, Australia and others fear that if firms like ZTE or Huawei are allowed to install 5G infrastructure, they will inadvertently give away a lot of political leverage to China which can hijack telecommunications infrastructure.
The Breakup of the Globalized World
The power struggle between the US and China is causing an unfortunate shift away from globalization which hitherto was being governed by the ideas of free trade, open borders and a common set to globally-accepted rules and procedures to settle disputes or partner on initiatives.
It isn’t as if the western world doesn’t have skeletons in its closet. Wiki Leaks, Edward Snowden and Cambridge Analytica are some of the names that show how the US and its allies have used technological superiority to spy on countries around the world and its own people.
Some of the revelations and leaks showed US’ National Security Agency (NSA), in collaboration with New Zealand, Canada, United States, United Kingdom and Australia spied on millions of emails and calls in Brazil, infiltrated internal communications of Qatar-based news agency Al Jazeera, intercepted millions of calls and messages in Spain, compromised Israel’s defense system and even spied on former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The startling revelations regarding the ‘Five Eyes’ network used by the governments of New Zealand, Canada, United States, United Kingdom and Australia to spy on governments, companies and people in power shocked the world.
China in the Spotlight
But as China comes under the spotlight with its push to increase influence in the global techno sphere, the conversation is now shifting towards splitting the global internet into two parallel systems.
The only casualty of multiple techno spheres will be developing countries especially those who do not have the requisite economic or technological prowess to stand up to these fast-emerging blocs. They will have no choice but to succumb to the pressures from either of them and get pulled into one of the two techno spheres where they will have to be at the mercy of one or the other.
Finally, the greatest loss will be to the world as a whole which will only see itself being divided up into different technological ecosystems and power blocs.