Huawei ban a salvo in widening US-China standoff

Washington (AFP) –


In effectively banning tech giant Huawei, President Donald Trump has fired a new salvo against China as the United States increasingly sees confrontation as the best way to curb the rising power.

The Trump administration has waged an intense global campaign against Huawei and last week hit it hard with orders that restrict the company's US sales and make it difficult for the company to buy critical US components, although it said Monday that it would delay implementation for 90 days.

The United States has warned that Huawei, omnipresent in much of the world, puts both national security and personal privacy at risk due to its close ties to China's authoritarian government -- charges denied by the company, which says it is only seeking to compete freely.

But US concerns extend far beyond Huawei. Criticism of China has become a rare cause that unites both parties in a divided Washington, where fed-up US businesses are no longer serving as Beijing's vital ally.

The crackdown on Huawei comes amid tense trade negotiations between the world's two largest economies, with Trump raising the stakes by raising tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

The United States accuses China of rampantly stealing US technology and has tried to rebut President Xi Jinping's "Belt and Road" infrastructure initiative, saying that Beijing's aggressive lending has forced developing nations into debt traps.

Washington has also voiced alarm at China's growing military clout, including in the South China Sea and toward Taiwan, and, in a rarity for the Trump administration, has been outspoken on human rights in denouncing Beijing's mass detention of Uighur Muslims.

Jonathan Hillman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that US policymakers have given up on their decades-long hope that rising prosperity would make China a more amenable partner.

"To put it very simply, China is not becoming more like us," he said.

"They have taken parts of globalization that work for them, while the state has continued to retain control. And I think all of that points to much longer-term competition," he said.

- 'Fundamental, long-term threat' -

Kiron Skinner, the director of policy planning at the State Department, said the United States was devising a comprehensive strategy on China akin to diplomat George Kennan's famed 1947 doctrine of containment for the Soviet Union.

Skinner said that the United States also worried about President Vladimir Putin?s resurgent Russia but saw it more as a "global survivor."

"But China, we see it as a more fundamental, long-term threat," she told the recent Future Security Forum.

While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the United States does not see a "Cold War" with China, Skinner explicitly drew a parallel to the Soviet Union.

Except while the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons and a robust military, it had a "backwards economy," she said.

"In China, we have an economic competitor (and) we have an ideological competitor, one that really does seek a kind of global reach that many of us didn't expect a couple of decades ago," she said.

She also pointed to cultural differences -- a comment that drew eyebrows in Washington, where Trump has shaken up norms with his racially charged politics.

"I think it's also striking that it's the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian," said Skinner, pointing out that the Soviets' Marxism stemmed from the Western intellectual tradition.

- Trade understanding coming apart -

Jacob Stokes, who advised former vice president Joe Biden on Asia policy, said that the Trump administration was inclined to see relations with China as "zero-sum," whereas Barack Obama's administration looked more for positive areas of cooperation.

"That said, I think there's a consensus in the China-watching community that some rebalancing is justified and it's just a natural consequence of the changing balance of power and China becoming stronger in the world," said Stokes, now a senior policy analyst in the China program at the US Institute of Peace.

After the United States welcomed China into the global trading order two decades ago, developed economies built a complementary relationship as the billion-plus nation supplied low-end labor.

"That basic deal is coming part," Stokes said.

"A large and growing part of China is a developed country and they are starting to act like a developed country," he said.

Indeed, observers point out that for all of the anger about Huawei, no other company is a true global competitor in the game-changing field of fifth-generation networks.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said that he supported the crackdown on Huawei but tweeted that without US firms that can compete, "we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back."

"This is a Sputnik moment and the United States has no industrial policy to counter China."