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HORIZONS

Telecom: China’s Trojan Horse?

/ 04:07 AM September 24, 2019

In his Latin epic poem “Aeneid,” Virgil writes about how the “leaders of the Greeks,” who were “opposed by the Fates, and damaged by the war,” came up with an ingenious plan to subdue independent Troy through building “a horse of mountainous size, through Pallas’s divine art.”

The besieged city-state, located in present-day Turkey, had until then successfully withstood the Greek invasion, thanks to the sacrifice of brave men such as Prince Hector.

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Virgil notes how the Greeks “pretend it’s a votive offering,” referring to the Trojan Horse, and deceptively ensure “this rumor spreads”; but what they actually did was “secretly hide a picked body of men, chosen by lot, there, in the dark body, filling the belly and the huge cavernous insides with armed warriors.”

Laocoön, the wise Trojan priest, was quick to detect the stratagem, warning: “Either there are Greeks in hiding… or it’s been built as a machine to use against our walls, or spy on our homes, or fall on the city from above, or it hides some other trick.” He desperately reminded his compatriots: “Do not trust the horse, Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks, even bringing gifts (Equo ne credite, Teucri. Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes).”

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Today, many countries around the world are facing a similar dilemma vis-à-vis the emergence of China as a world-class technological power. And this is even more relevant in our case, precisely because our major telecom companies as well as the government, including the military, are expected to absorb cutting-edge Chinese telecommunications infrastructure.

No longer just a third-rate producer of counterfeit products, or simply the sweatshop of the world, China has become a legitimate contender for global technological supremacy. Under the “Made in China 2025” strategic plan, the Asian powerhouse seeks to become a global leader in cutting-edge technology, including in artificial intelligence.

In fact, one of the motivations behind the much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative is the globalization of Chinese technological and industrial standards, as more countries subscribe to its soft and hard infrastructure system. Exports of industrial standards are crucial, because they allow China to effectively lock in hundreds of millions of people as dependent customers for decades, if not centuries, to come. Meanwhile, China’s state-owned and state-backed megacompanies are increasingly outbidding their far more established Western counterparts.

In one area in particular, China is already at the technological frontier, namely in the telecom sector. And here, three important points have to be made.

First, the consensus among experts is that China’s rapid catch-up is the product of massive state subsidy and, more worryingly, unprecedented technological theft, especially since the introduction of the “Going Global Strategy” for its national champions.

In China’s state-driven capitalism, under the yoke of an ostensibly communist party, all major companies and corporations rely directly or indirectly on the state. There is no such thing as “free enterprise.” Thus, it’s foolish to draw parallels between Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Facebook, on one hand, and Chinese state-owned and state-backed corporations, on the other.

Not to mention, the former operate in an allied nation with privacy laws, no matter how imperfect, while the others hail from a full-fledged authoritarian regime, which is a direct rival in the West Philippine Sea. Beware of the folly of false parallelism.

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Second, experts are also worried about new Chinese legislation that could further blur the distinction between the government and broader society, but most especially state-owned companies. Chapter 1, Article 7 of China’s new National Intelligence Law states: “Any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law…”

In a country ruled by a paternalistic regime, where there is not even a linguistic counterpart for the word “rights,” one could deduce the implications of such legislation.

Lastly, experts believe that the 5G network is a completely new ball game, since it gives Beijing unprecedented ability to potentially monitor, manipulate, sabotage and redirect communications flow.

No wonder, then, that the US Secretary
of State warned earlier this year: “America may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that.”

Remember: What sealed Troy’s tragic fate was not lack of courage or even strategic acumen, but fatal naiveté.

[email protected]

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TAGS: China expansionism, China Telecom, Chinese technology, Horizons, Richard Heydarian
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