Over the past week, the US government has taken extreme and unprecedented steps against Huawei, cutting it off from every US partner at the risk of a long-term rupture in trade between the US and China. But while the impact of the order is clear, it’s still not entirely clear why it was put in place.
The official explanation, according to the initial executive order, is that Huawei hardware puts the US at risk for espionage. As the order puts it, “foreign adversaries are increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology and services,” and the “unrestricted acquisition or use” of hardware made by foreign adversaries makes those vulnerabilities worse.
Are Huawei phones bound for Europe really a US security risk?It’s a convincing case when it comes to restricting Huawei’s role in network infrastructure, and it’s a case a number of officials have made in that context. But it makes a lot less sense for exported hardware. Why shouldn’t Corning glass or Micron flash memory be sold to Huawei for use in phones bound for Europe? Huawei doesn’t sell phones within the US, so the infrastructure security argument doesn’t make as much sense. And if the problem is really just that China has a history of intellectual property violations and trade secret theft, the same logic might apply just as easily to Chinese companies like Lenovo or dronemaker DJI, with catastrophic consequences for those companies and the industry at large.
Complicating all of this is the growing trade war, which is taking place on a largely separate diplomatic track. For more than a year now, Trump has been placing an escalating series of tariffs on Chinese imports in order to force leaders to the bargaining table, with China retaliating with its own tariffs, and increased tension as various summits have fallen through. From afar, it’s easy to see the measures against Huawei as part of that same logic: pressure placed on China’s economy to extract concessions down the road. But if that’s true, offering a national security justification would be both dishonest and diplomatically counterproductive, doing lasting damage to America’s credibility in the event that a genuine security threat emerges. [Read More]
Published @ May 23, 2019