For over two years, we have been writing about 5G as a major battleground for global technology supremacy and the risk of a major confrontation between China and the United States. We excerpted over 7 passages from Graham Allison’s classic and prophetic Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucidydes’s Trap? Now comes an important article in the FT of March 5, 2019 by Kishore Mahbubani entitled “The US strategy is not the best way to deal with Huawei.” Mahbubani is one of the world’s great geopolitical thinkers, having received The Foreign Policy Association Medal in June 2004 with the following opening citation: “A gifted diplomat, a student of history and philosophy, a provocative writer and an intuitive thinker”. He was Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations between 1984-1989 and 1998-2004. He also served as President of the United Nations Security Council from January 2001 to May 2002. He was Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore between 2004 and 2017.
We quote as follows:
It is clear that the US government has made a strategic decision to go after Huawei, the Chinese telecoms equipment maker. What is not clear is whether there is a coherent strategy behind this decision. Is the goal to reform and improve Huawei? Or to destroy it? And is it part of a coherent American strategy to manage the rise of China? The rest of the world has already decided that this cannot be stopped, barring a catastrophic breakdown of internal legitimacy (which is unlikely).
If the aim is merely to rein in Huawei, then US moves against it may attract international support. If, for example, Huawei, had violated US law in exporting a sample from a company called Akhan Semiconductor, it deserves to face the full penalties available to American prosecutors.
At the same time, Huawei may also be willing to adapt to the best practices and norms governing global multinational corporations. Indeed, it has already gone further than any other Chinese corporation in adapting to western norms, employing leading western consultancies and accountants to shape its corporate governance. Huawei insists it is not a state-owned enterprise but is fully owned by its employees, with profits going to the employee-shareholders...
Meanwhile, America’s envoy to the EU, Gordon Sondland, has urged European countries to snub Huawei, lending credence to the suspicion that the US aim is simply to destroy one of China’s most successful global companies.
That attempt will fail. For Beijing, it would be an enormous loss of face (which is particularly important in an Asian context) to see a great Chinese success story wiped out by an American attack. The Chinese government will fight tooth and nail against it. In the past, the threat of American retaliation would have halted many countries in their tracks. But the world has moved on. The low-cost, technologically advanced 5G networks promised by Huawei offer many developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa, an opportunity to take full advantage of the new digital economy. There is no comparable American system on offer...
Any unilateral US campaign against Beijing (and Chinese companies) will fail. However, a multilateral campaign that forges globally accepted rules for corporations such as Huawei could work. Sadly, multilateralism is anathema to the Trump administration, which means that the most viable strategy for managing China will be ignored.