A logo of 5G is seen at a Huawei authorised experience store on May 29, 2020 in Beijing, China.
Qin Luyao | VCG | Getty Images
Less than six months ago, it appeared Chinese telecom giant Huawei was winning over America’s European allies. Now, countries that decided to allow Huawei to build their 5G networks are waking up to the dangers posed by allowing Chinese state-directed companies into their infrastructure.
In July, the British government reversed its decision to accept Huawei’s assistance and banned the Chinese tech giant from its telecommunications network. In France, authorities recently announced a similar ban on Huawei, which will go into full effect by 2028. Similarly, Singapore has rejected Huawei and decided to go with Ericsson and Nokia.
For some, the reversal comes down to growing awareness of the serious accusations aimed at Huawei, ranging from intellectual property theft to enabling Beijing’s digital authoritarianism. Until recently, too many foreign leaders dismissed warnings about allowing Huawei into their telecommunication infrastructure from the Trump Administration as bluster amid trade negotiations.
However, Beijing’s horrific abuses this year are showing the world the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party, forcing countries to be wary of partnering with China on sensitive projects. From covering up the COVID-19 virus in the early days of the outbreak to the crackdown in Hong Kong to its continued human rights violations in Xinjiang, China has provided zero reason for trust.
The shift provides an opening for the U.S. and our partners to work together to ensure alternatives exist. Because Huawei has so far competed against private telecom firms with the force of the Chinese government backing it, legitimate competitors find it difficult if not impossible to compete. Beijing has tilted the playing field by subsidizing Huawei and providing financing to its customers. The more nations ban or otherwise restrict Huawei, the more effective market-based solutions among the no-Huawei zone will be.
Countries cutting out Huawei and its cheap, high-risk hardware will have to look for trusted alternatives, such as newer, interoperable open radio access networks (ORANs), which bypass the need for Huawei’s end-to-end proprietary gear and thus are more open to market innovation.
Governments should support innovative telecom companies that are leading the way when it comes to ORAN solutions. In the United States, I have worked with my colleagues on bipartisan legislation, the USA Telecommunications Act, which would provide $750 million in federal funding for research and development of these open and adaptable technologies.
Defending against Huawei — and other Chinese state-directed companies — will require an aggressive, global effort to support innovative technologies, grow our economies, and increase secure 5G access. To that end, my legislation devotes $500 million specifically to encourage the spread of open-access technologies.
America should lead in coordinating a coalition of like-minded nations — such as our Five Eyes partners, other European countries, Japan, and South Korea — to develop safe and affordable alternatives without having to sacrifice security. From there, telecommunications firms should use their business in the developing world to help expand new technologies and regulation regimes abroad. Rejecting China’s technological imperialism will require more than just a series of bans, but a broad network of dedicated nations.
Of course, the Chinese government will not go down without a fight. Huawei is aggressively working to lock in client nations and to create facts on the ground before governments set new regulations about high-risk vendors, so it will be on us and our partners to keep the pressure on.
It will be significantly more difficult to remove Huawei technology from telecommunication networks once it has been installed because of the exclusionary, closed-off nature of much of its technology. We already have a taste of how China might retaliate, as well, in the form of Beijing’s threats in July against market competitors Ericsson and Nokia. America should be alert to Chinese attempts to intimidate or destroy them.
Halting Chinese state-directed companies like Huawei — as well as building a robust, competitive, and secure 5G market internationally — is in the interest of all nations, particularly democracies. As our international partners continue to reject Huawei’s presence, Americans should lead the way in developing the market-based infrastructure that will fill the gap.
The choice between one future characterized by Communist China’s domination, repression, and surveillance and another by collaboration among partner nations is obvious, and now is the moment to begin building it.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the acting chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, as well as a senior member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations