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Huawei: Staring into the Abyss

Huawei: Staring into the Abyss

Huawei is putting on a brave face. The Chinese networking equipment giant, banned from acquiring US technology last month over alleged violations of international sanctions against Iran, last week claimed it had assigned 10,000 engineers to work around the clock to find ways to break its reliance on American code and computer chips. Spoiler: It's not going to work. If the US ban stays in place, today's Huawei won't survive.

Technology: To make its phones and networking gear work, Huawei needs semiconductors. To make those semiconductors, Huawei relies on software tools that are built by only a handful of US and European companies, which have suspended doing business with Huawei to comply with the US ban. Without access to these tools, or the software updates needed to keep them running, Huawei can't make viable products, and its business will collapse. It's as simple as that.

Politics: Huawei could try to seek a settlement. If Huawei were to admit guilt over the violation of Iran sanctions, fire some executives, and submit to US inspections to allay espionage fears, as it's already done in the UK, Washington might be willing to deal. But Huawei is China's most important and innovative tech giant. Kowtowing to the US would be humiliating both for company, the country, and in particular Chinese President Xi Jinping. There is no sign yet that Huawei or China are willing to go down that path.

But what about all those other countries that have signed deals with Huawei? Governments from Brasilia to Moscow to Kuala Lumpur have signaled they are sticking by Huawei despite US pressure. Just last week, Huawei signed a 5G deal with a Russian mobile telecom company. But unless the US ban is lifted, Huawei won't be able to deliver much beyond signatures.

What if Trump changes his mind? He's seeking leverage in his broader trade dispute with China, and as we know, he's turned on a dime before. All it would take is a single tweet and presto, Huawei's saved. But even if Trump decided to suspend the technology ban as part of a potential deal, the firm's reputation as a supplier may already be compromised. Telecom companies that are preparing to shell out billions of dollars to build their 5G networks would have to think hard about signing deals with a company that from now on will be squarely in the US crosshairs.

And so Huawei is probably going down. As that fact becomes clearer over the coming days and weeks, it will send shockwaves through both the $1 trillion global telecoms sector and through geopolitics. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Listen: The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he talks about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He also offers some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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