The threat to the free world if we get seduced into fully equipping our infrastructures with cheap Chinese advanced communications technology is of the gravest nature.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war,” Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu declared in The Art of War, some 500 years before Christ.
Using 21st-century terminology last week in London, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described much the same thing, warning that Beijing is seeking “to divide Western alliances through bits and bytes, not bullets and bombs.”
President Trump on Wednesday declared a national emergency and empowered Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to block international communications technology transactions posing a national security risk. The unnamed but primary target was China’s Huawei, a telecom giant currently possessing arguably the most advanced and least expensive fifth-generation cellular network broadband technology. The firm claims it serves more than a third of the population of the world, extending to 170 countries.
The Trump Administration has been insisting U.S. allies not enlist Huawei to build their countries’ 5G high-speed mobile networks, warning the Chinese government could use Huawei hardware and future software upgrades to spy, or even to cripple vital national services or industries that are going to come to depend on 5G completely.
France, Germany and Holland said on Thursday they would not ban Huawei as urged. Still, Dutch intelligence is probing the possibility of “secret back doors” in Huawei products, the De Volkskrant newspaper reported. Australia and Japan, on the other hand, have taken the administration’s advice and banned Huawei.
‘Risk Mitigation’ That Doesn’t Mitigate Risk
Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency took part in an investigation earlier this year that delivered some disturbing findings, including that Huawei had failed to address security and engineering defects discovered by the British last year. The flaws mean telecom systems in Britain would have vulnerabilities “capable of being exploited by a range of actors.”
British defense minister Gavin Williamson lost his job this month amidst allegations he leaked to the press that Britain was preparing to give Huawei access to parts of its 5G network.
The retort to U.S. concerns is that Huawei’s EU clients use a “risk mitigation” protocol of testing and retesting Huawei infrastructure equipment for security risks. But as former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told CNBC this week, “Once you embed something in the network, there are updates, patches, fixes; all of these create opportunities to affect a system.”
Chertoff pointed to the December arrest in Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request for violating sanctions against Iran, and how it was followed by a tit-for-tat arrest of Canadian citizens in China, as illustration that Huawei and Beijing’s Communist government are joined at the hip. “And if you are a Chinese company and you choose not to honor the suggestion of the government, that can be a problem,” he said.
In fact, China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law requires that “an organization or citizen shall support, assist in and cooperate in national intelligence work in accordance with the law and keep confidential the national intelligence work that it or he knows.”
Robert Strayer, the Trump Administration’s deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber and international communications and information policy, this week told PBS’s NewsHour that Beijing “could cause that technology to be disrupted that would cause your electricity to be disrupted or your provision of water or sewer or other very important, critical services that the public needs to have available.”
One-Party Government & Private Sector As One
Beyond that, Strayer contended, “It also would provide the opportunity for a foreign power to conduct espionage on those networks.” And he noted, “There is no differentiation really between the private sector in companies and the government in China. The government, through the national intelligence law and other laws that it has at its disposal, can compel companies to take action. And then there’s no way for that company to object.”
Strayer pointed out, “There’s no such thing as independent judicial redress. They are subject completely to the direction of the Chinese Communist Party. So it’s impossible for an official to make such an attestation that they won’t do this, because they can be ordered the next day to do so by the Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping.”
Huawei can and will be a puppet, as careful and subtle as Beijing may sometimes be in pulling its strings.
What’s more, U.S. allies have alternatives, according to Strayer. Sweden’s Ericsson has done more trials in the field than Huawei, he said. “Over time, we’re going to see much more development in this field. We shouldn’t be rushing out there to choose the cheapest alternative right now. The other companies are going to provide increasing amounts of capability on their systems.”
Chertoff described the overlap between economic and national security concerns. In Europe, much of the Huawei 5G equipment bought has to be upgraded almost exclusively with additional Huawei product.
“What does that do to other companies that are competitive?” Chertoff asked. “The idea of getting Huawei to be monopolist would be almost suicidal to a country, because it’s handing over the keys to the kingdom to a foreign government.”
It would be reminiscent of the Nixon Administration’s inexplicable 1969 allocation of land on some of the highest ground in Washington, D.C., on Mount Alto, as the site of the Soviet embassy — perfect for electronic surveillance of U.S. government and other microwave transmissions.
Huawei is but one component of a comprehensive, long-term strategy for global economic and political dominance to which China’s one-party state is totally committed. It entails a massive advance in economic and technological strength over the next 15 years. Then, by the middle of the 21st century, the goal is to have become a prosperous, modern, strong socialist power with a military at least equal to the United States.
Helping a totalitarian colossus rise above the rest of the world is a steep price for free countries to leave their children with, in exchange for a cheaper upgrade in telecommunications today.