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America's Chinese tech ban didn't stick

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In 2019, the White House declared that the phone and internet equipment of Chinese tech companies must be ripped from every corner of the United States because the risk of prying and sabotage by the Chinese government is unacceptable.

More than three years later, most of that equipment is still there.

Today we look at how the US has handled equipment from two Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE. What does this tell us about America’s ability to effectively address concerns about other Chinese technology, such as apps like TikTok, and its efforts to become more self-sufficient in manufacturing and designing computer chips? I’m looking to see if I can give it to you.

Technology will no longer be as close to an American monopoly as it has been for the past half century. America must find and implement plans that will help it benefit from global technology development while maintaining American security and innovation. But the Chinese equipment story shows that there is still a long way to go.

Some US officials believe the continued use of Huawei and ZTE equipment poses a serious threat to US national security. Other policy experts I have spoken to say the risk it poses is negligible and it may not be worth trying to remove all the equipment immediately.

What is clear is that the U.S. said China’s technology ban was urgent and failed to comply.

Taking down Huawei and ZTE equipment, which is mostly used in rural areas of the United States, was never easy, and pandemic-related complications have made matters worse. Critics of the US approach, however, said the way the authorities handled it hurt US businesses and consumers and did not make the country safer.

Let’s go back to how this all started. For nearly a decade, U.S. officials have repeatedly said Huawei and ZTE phone and internet equipment could be used as gateways for Chinese government espionage or to disrupt critical U.S. communications. rice field. These warnings persuaded the largest US phone and Internet companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, to refrain from purchasing such equipment.

Nearly everyone in the U.S. government and business community working on this issue says it was the right thing to do. (There is little consensus on the wisdom of Huawei’s restrictions on smartphones.

Smaller businesses, mostly located in rural areas, were less hesitant to purchase equipment from Huawei and ZTE. A significant minority of them continued to purchase items from companies, such as devices resembling home internet modems and equipment for bouncing mobile signals.

The US government declared it too risky. Starting in 2019, the United States has ordered virtually all companies with Huawei and ZTE gear to replace them all. promised taxpayer money.

The Federal Communications Commission once estimated the cost of replacing Chinese equipment at about $2 billion. According to the latest estimates released last month, it was around $5 billion. It will take time for the FCC and Congress to decide how to pay the small telecoms the amount they claim they need. In the meantime, as Politico reported last month, many such providers haven’t even started replacing Huawei or ZTE equipment.

There are many accusations about how this happened. Congress imposed obligations on small businesses, but the funds were never disbursed. US officials were baffled as to what types of Huawei and ZTE equipment would need to be replaced. Delays and confusing official messages slowed down the process.

Naomi Wilson, an Asia policy specialist at the ITI, a trade association of US technology and telecom companies, told me that the initial estimate for replacing the equipment was the best estimate and turned out to be far too low. rice field. Inflation, supply chain problems and the trade war between the US and China pushed prices higher.

One big question is whether this drama could have been avoided. I asked Paul Triolo, senior vice president of China for strategy firm Albright Stonebridge Group, if the U.S. plan was not working, or if the strategy was wrong in the first place. He said it was a little bit of both.

Triolo said the U.S. government has phased out Huawei and ZTE equipment over the years, similar to the U.K.’s approach, and some types of Chinese equipment near sensitive locations, such as near military installations. equipment and equipment could have been removed quickly. The US said it needed to remove equipment risks quickly, but they all remained intact anyway, he said.

Triolo and other China policy experts I spoke with were concerned that America’s approach to Chinese technology was not always effective or focused on the right things. I’m here.

The United States is also concerned that TikTok and other apps developed by Chinese companies could siphon sensitive data of Americans or spread Chinese government propaganda. Policymakers have yet to figure out how to address these concerns, or have made significant progress on China’s relentless cyberattacks on American government agencies and businesses.

Government officials don’t always have a consistent message about building a homegrown computer chip industry to compete with China. And if the United States wants to preserve its technological prowess, it can do more to help immigrate tech professionals and eliminate Chinese tariffs that hurt Americans. .

Theoretically, the United States can do everything. Officials can devote the time, money, and intelligence they need to defending the nation from potential foreign dangers and supporting the best policies for American innovation. Some bits and parts are not stacked.

Read past On Tech newsletters to find out how the US is responding to Chinese technology.


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