Huawei’s Global Cloud Strategy May Give ‘Coercive Leverage’

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A new report suggests that Chinese telecommunication firm Huawei has successfully secured contracts to provide cloud infrastructure in emerging economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America — a strategy that could allow Beijing to harvest important and sensitive information for “coercive leverage.” The move comes as many developed economies such as the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and France are banning or restricting Huawei from their 5G networks.  The report, FILE – Huawei’s Director of the Board William Xu speaks at the opening of Huawei Global Analysts Summit in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, April 12, 2021.The CSIS report warned that as Huawei carves out a niche as a provider to governments and state-owned enterprises, “its activities could provide Chinese authorities with intelligence and even coercive leverage.” In response to the report, Huawei issued a statement saying the company does not own or control any customer data.  “Network security and user privacy are our top priorities,” the statement added. However, part of the concern surrounding Huawei and other Chinese tech companies such as ZTE stems from the FILE – Information on Huawei’s 5G equipment is seen on a screen at the World 5G Exhibition in Beijing, China, Nov. 22, 2019.Huawei landed on what’s known as the entity list during the Trump administration over concerns it posed an espionage threat because of its ties to the Chinese government.  In March, the U.S. notified some Huawei suppliers that more items would be banned for export because of their use in 5G technology. China has long objected to restrictions imposed or proposed by the U.S. On March 12, 2021, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “The previous U.S. administration abused the concept of national security and left no stones unturned to suppress Chinese high-tech companies with state power. … “The U.S. side should stop its crackdown on Chinese companies, treat them in an open, fair, unbiased and non-discriminatory manner, and do more to enhance China-U.S. scientific and technological exchanges and economic and trade cooperation.” Weitz said Chinese authorities will benefit from Huawei’s ability to collect data from other countries. “This would allow them to access information that could provide what the Russians call ‘compromising information’ in bad or illicit activities — misbehavior that you don’t want it to be released into the public. They could leverage that for gains,” he told VOA Mandarin. As Beijing develops its artificial intelligence capabilities, “having access to millions of additional sources of data can help them refine their computer and control models,” Weitz said of Huawei’s collecting. In July, Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, published a report stating that China is developing “digital authoritarianism” to conduct surveillance, control the internet and censor information within its borders and around the world.Cloud competition? To compete with Chinese influence in these developing economies, the authors of the report recommend that “the U.S. and allied policymakers should prioritize cloud infrastructure and services as an area of strategic competition.”  This would include “packaging cloud services with support for the infrastructure that underpins them, including not only data centers and fiber optic networks, but also energy infrastructure.”  The authors also recommended that “the United States and its allies should pool resources to expand financing and funding for digital infrastructure, technical assistance and training. They should also cooperate to remove and prevent foreign regulatory barriers that disadvantage U.S. and allied cloud providers.”  Herbert Lin, an expert in cyber policy and security at the Hoover Institution, said the U.S. must become a real competitor and provide developing countries an alternative to China’s Huawei. “The U.S. policy now is ‘Just say no to Huawei.’ But that’s not a strategy. You have to be a competitor,” he told VOA Mandarin via phone. “You have to have the technological competence to build a competing service, and you have to have a willingness to sell it aggressively at terms that another nation will find more favorable. … If the U.S. is going to play, we have to have a policy that will support our bid.”  

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