A US / European Rift Over 5G?

A US / European Rift Over 5G?

Speaking of trans-Atlantic rifts, we've written previously about the US pushback against Huawei, arguably the world's most geopolitically significant technology company. The Trump administration has been trying to convinceits European allies to ban the Chinese tech giant from their next-generation 5G information networks, citing national security risks. Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even warned of consequences for countries that don't toe Washington's line on the issue.


Nevertheless, the US anti-Huawei push appears to be faltering. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Germany was leaning towards allowing the Chinese group to play some role in its 5G network plans. And over the weekend, The Financial Times said the UK government thinks the security risks of using Huawei gear are manageable.

So, why are US allies reluctant to ban Huawei? There are a few factors at play:

Shifting US arguments: At first, the US warned that the Chinese government could use Huawei equipment to spy on Western governments or sabotage their critical infrastructure. But skeptics counter that there's no evidence China has ever used Huawei for espionage and that critical infrastructure is already vulnerable in many other ways. So the US shifted its argument to focus on accusations that Huawei has stolen other firms' intellectual property while also making a broader argument that partnering with tech companies subject to influence by authoritarian governments is just a bad idea. That may be, but these shifting arguments from Washington provoke skepticism from allies.

A growing industry counter-narrative: The global mobile telecommunications industry was caught off guard by the US's anti-Huawei campaign. The US has long pressured its own telecom companies to avoid Huawei gear, but many network operators in other countries rely on the firm, and a global campaign against the company wasn't on the policy radar a year ago. Now that businesses are tallying the cost of removing Chinese gear from their networks, they're asking why such a drastic step is necessary. Building new 5G networks without Huawei is certainly possible, but doing so will be more expensive and take longer – adding a significant burden for companies that were already planning one of the most expensive and complex technology projects ever.

Pressure from China: Beijing isn't taking the threat against Huawei lying down. The Chinese government says Washington is just making up excuses to stunt China's rightful technological rise. And if the US and China are making their cases to countries around the world, China has clout: many European countries rely heavily on the company for their existing mobile networks. In regions like Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia Beijing has leverage with governments that rely increasingly on Chinese firms for trade, investment, and infrastructure.

Put it all together, and it's easy to see why some European countries might prefer a subtler approach – let Huawei into their networks, but under close scrutiny. So far there are no signs that the US is willing to back down from its hardline stance. If big European economies refuse to bend to the US pressure, it could erode the transatlantic relationship even further.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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