Battle lines have been drawn as the United States, or more specifically, President Donald Trump, seems to have settled into full-scale trade war against China. Recent months have seen tensions mount as shots and counter shots have been taken, with the two countries squaring off and going head to head. The latest move saw President Trump file a ban on Huawei products in the United States in perhaps one of the most outlandish and brazen moves possible. Huawei is, of course, the Chinese brand most commonly known for making smartphones. It is also no secret that Huawei also happens to be the fastest growing and second biggest manufacturer of smartphones in the world.
But how could Trump get away with such an audacious move? The excuse given is that the company’s technology represents a danger to national security, with the phones alleged to be used for spying and espionage. Immediate reaction to this might be a scoff and an eye roll, but is there any truth to the accusation?
A critical look will reveal that a number of other countries have agreed that allowing foreign nations to have a hand in telecommunication infrastructure is a bad move, but restricting hardware itself has never been brought up at all. It is Trump alone who has issued such a ban, and what many assume are for reasons centred squarely on the on going trade war.
National Security And Huawei
A further critical look will reveal that Chinese corporations have a fishy history of intellectual property violations and trade secret theft, so it isn’t to say that Trump’s supposed fears are unfounded. But the ban has extended to restricting United States based companies such as Micron from exporting memory to China, which is needed by the company in order to make phones. An obviously devastating blow to Micron and Huawei alike, and not a move that can be justified by fear of espionage or spying.
Instead, the goal seems to be to put pressure on Chinese companies, specifically Huawei, forcing them to renegotiate trade deals. An obvious truth backed up by the fact that Trump has been aggressively nudging up trade tariffs on China. China, naturally, has been doing the same in retaliation.
So, what does this mean for Huawei?
First; a lawsuit has been filed by the company declaring that the actions taken by Trump are unconstitutional. Song Liuping, legal officer at Huawei, took to the media to declare that there is nothing normal about an entire country coming after a private corporation, and that it is the equivalent of a party being declared guilty without a fair trial of any kind. He likewise pointed out that the actions taken threaten billions of smartphone users across 170 countries, and directly risk catastrophically collapsing a company that supports thousands of employees.
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The Effects On Consumers
But what does this mean for users of smartphones made by Huawei? At present, it means that future phones made by the company will not be carrying software from Google, a United States company that is obliged to follow the ban rules. This in turn means that apps like Google Maps and Google Search will no longer be present on the devices. The phones themselves will, however, still be supported. At least unless the situation changes again. Though it should be kept in mind that Google Play is the primary means by which Google distributes updates to users, and as it will be restricted, users may struggle, or at least be inconvenienced, when updating installed apps.
Beyond these immediate consequences, the true extent of what this all means remains to be seen. As Song Liuping said in a press briefing, the action by President Trump and the United States government sets a dangerous and troubling precedent for future trade agreements. Trump has previously been openly aggressive about negotiating trade with various countries, but the steps being taken here set a new bar for what he is willing to do in order to force a nation’s hand.
Outcome Still Unknown
In a recent interview, Trump was asked about the ban, and what it meant. In the brief statement he completely contradicted himself, first reaffirming that the ban was the result of national security risks. But in the following sentence, he stated that the ban might be lifted if the right deals are struck. The words all but verify that national security is not at all the concern, but instead the much more obvious need to negotiate trade agreements that are more beneficial to the United States.
The battle is on going, in what seems to be a dispute that may go on for some time. No obvious outcomes are yet foreseeable, but the results may well shape history forever. This could well be the biggest tech war the world has ever seen, and the endless Android vs. iOS debate could pale and seem petty in comparison.