What may seem to be only the most recent episode of the trade war between the United States and China brings back to light another question of primary importance. Perhaps the Chinese telecommunications giants are the operative arm of Beijing’s repressive Big Brother, useful to control refugees abroad, dissidents at home, and westerners everywhere, thanks to the exploitation of the future of the Internet that we all rightly dream of but that we should actually dramatically fear.
The arrest in Vancouver, on December 1 (but the news was released only on December 6), of Ms. Meng Wanzhou, 46, deputy chairwoman of the board and chief financial officer of China’s largest private company, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd (as well as the daughter of Ren Zhengei, the founder of the telecommunications giant created in 1987 in Shenzhen, in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong), for violation of the sanctions imposed by Donald J. Trump’s US Administration to Iran, has immediately depressed the Asian markets.
Then, on the evening of December 11, judge William Ehrcke of the British Columbia Supreme Court released “Lady Huawei” on bail (CAN$ 10 million, or US$ 7.5) as she agreed to surrender her passports and live in one of her homes in Vancouver, paying for an around-the-clock security detail and wearing a GPS ankle bracelet. The forthcoming legal fight over her extradition to the United States may take months, and while Ms. Meng is due back in court on February 6, the United States has 60 days from the date of the provisional arrest to provide Canada with its formal extradition request and supporting documents. Canada’s Justice Department then will have 30 days to evaluate the request and, at that point, a judge, passing through a hearing, will give the final word.
The embarrassment for the Chinese diplomacy is tremendous, and Beijing, while demonstrators on behalf of Ms. Meng have shown up outside the Vancouver court with signs, is balancing a substantially low profile on one side, with an aprioristic public defense of the Huawei top manager on the other. Meanwhile, over the weekend, the markets recovered quickly, and there are those who swear that the resounding arrest of Ms. Meng was just a dirty move designed by Washington to bend Beijing. Those who support this version, or rather those who say that it is but another episode in the no-holds-barred tariffs war between the United States and China, point to the fact that the arrest of “Lady Huawei” occurred the day after the G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The half agreement reached by Beijing and Washington on December 2 imposed, in fact, a 90-day truce which has left the scene without (for now) neither winners nor losers.
As for the arrest itself, it is based on the fact that some of the components used by Huawei devices are produced in the United States, and, therefore, selling them to Iran constitutes, according to the American law, a crime. Be that as it may, in reality, the most critical issue is the one that gigantically looms behind the Meng Wanzhou affair.
In fact, since a long time, Huawei, together with ZTE Corporation ‒ formerly Zhongxing Semiconductor Co. Ltd., another Chinese telecommunications company, founded in 1985, also in Shenzhen ‒ is in the eye of an espionage storm. The secret services of half of the Western world are dealing with it. Smartphones, tablets, and even computers made by Huawei and ZTE would contain devices that can intercept and record phone calls and messages from unsuspecting users worldwide. Thanks to their undoubted quality and competitive prices, Huawei products are today among the most popular in the West. On a technical level, it is very easy to put such devices in phones, tablets, and PCs, especially, if the producer does it at the source. Yet, the allegations have another major implication: Huawei and ZTE would operate this crime in league with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Thus, if it were true that Huawei and ZTE spy on their customers, it would mean that most of their clients are exposed to virtually total control by Beijing’s brutal government.
But there are things much worse. Huawei is working on an interception system not linked just to its products (which one could easily choose not to buy or not to use), but based on a global structure that can control any electronic device for communications. To make it available to the Chinese giant in a relatively simple way would be to upgrade the Internet to the 5G technology (i.e. “5th Generation”), which all of us dream about because it will allow performance and speed much higher than the current one, as well as an integration between users and services worth of a sci-fi scenario.
Technically, everything is almost ready, so, virtually, the jump is imminent. But the bug is right here. If Huawei is to build these infrastructures, as it is one of the candidates to do, having the know-how and the skills that make it the favorite company for contracts in several countries, Huawei will be able to control almost everything worldwide. The only obstacle is the interdiction of these concessions for security reasons. With the so-called “5G towers,” if Huawei transmits to China data stolen from users, it would no longer be constrained to use its own products, but it would be enough that anyone, anywhere in the world and with any telecommunications instrument of any brand connects to a 5G network.
5G will be, in fact, the first system able to unite the “Internet of people” and the “Internet of things,” since the same “towers” that will manage smartphones, tablets, and PCs will also manage hospitals, traffic, electricity networks, airports, and so on. Roberto Missana, Sales Manager of Huawei Italia, explains this well.
The very useful 5G put in the service of an evil design could in a moment cancel the reservation of a flight, a hotel room or an entrance to an event for a person unwelcome to Beijing, or, much more seriously, interfere with the electronic control of an operation in a hospital, creating a traffic accident, and so on. The United States is particularly worried that the 5G “towers” will also be able to control military bases. The concern, in short, is enormous, as can be deduced from an in-depth analysis full of data and news that the always well-informed Italian newspaper Il Foglio has dedicated to the topic, significantly titled “the world war of technologies”. Reconsidering then what for someone is “only” a trade war between the United States and China in the light of this Orwellian future is more than appropriate, and explains why it is not at all indifferent if this or that country lines “commercially” upon one or the other side.
Australia and New Zealand first, and then Germany and Britain just a few days ago, banned the use of infrastructure technology that Huawei was preparing to make available for the installation of 5G. BT Group, i.e., the former British Telecom, has even decided to ban Huawei from its 4G main network.
Samantha Hoffman is an academic analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, Germany, and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in Canberra, Australia. On November 28, she testified, among others, in Washington, D.C., before the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, presided by Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Christopher H. Smith (to whom, on that occasion, yours truly presented Bitter Winter), at the hearing “The Communist Party’s Crackdown on Religion in China”. On October 1st she wrote: “Beyond the core features of the CCP’s approach to intelligence, Huawei itself has been linked to data theft, allegedly for intelligence purposes. As ASPI’s Danielle Cave has revealed, Huawei was the primary provider of ICT infrastructure to the African Union headquarters, which an investigation by Le Monde showed had been the victim of data theft over a five-year period. If Huawei is given the full benefit of the doubt, its apparent involvement in this case demonstrates negligence at best. However, in light of the scope and scale of the alleged data theft, it’s difficult to imagine that the company wasn’t aware of, or perhaps even complicit in, these activities.”
The article from which this quote is taken, written by Hoffman together with her ASPI analyst colleague Elsa Kania, was initially published in The Strategist, the site of comments and analysis of that prestigious Australian institute. It was later collected into a thematic study, produced by a team of ASPI researchers, Huawei and Australia’s 5G Network, and ends impeccably: “Ultimately, what matters isn’t whether Huawei can be ‘proven’ to be ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent,’ but whether it’s prudent to let a company that is constrained and influenced both by CCP priorities and by Chinese laws and extralegal mechanisms to build or operate the next generation of Australian critical infrastructure.”
The point is indeed this. The secret services will do their job. The trade wars between China and the United States will follow their course. But Bitter Winter, which deals with human rights and religious liberty, is disconcerted by the fact that one of the most widespread technological brands in the West is suspected of fraudulent collusion with one of the most repressive and bloodthirsty regimes existing in the world, i.e., the Chinese communist regime, to spy on the “unwelcome” today and to control everything tomorrow.
It is well known that Beijing uses any available technological tool to monitor and intimidate the Chinese, from the intensification of controls in the re-education camps through sophisticated surveillance systems to the interception with avant-garde means of its citizens in an attempt to subjugate as many people as possible to its power. The case of the Indian student controlled by the CCP may be enough to remind us of that.
After all, the “omnipotent” Google will finally return to the appetizing Chinese market eight years after having been shut down for censorship reasons. Google has, in fact, accepted to self-censor itself through the use of filters that will prevent the research of Internet materials that are disturbing for the Chinese authorities. The search engine that appeals to the CCP is called Dragonfly, and will be operated in partnership with a Chinese company, as revealed by The Intercept, a webzine of “independent aggressive journalism” (as it claims), informing on mass surveillance systems around the globe, published both in English and Portuguese. The Intercept was launched in February 2014 to offer a discussion platform for the documents made available by Edward Snowden (the former CIA employee and former contractor for the US government who copied and leaked classified information from the US National Security Agency in 2013) and financed by American billionaire Pierre Morad Omidyar, born in Paris in a Iranian family, the founder of eBay in 1995.
“Google will do anything to get back to China,” says Il Sole 24 Ore, the most read Italian financial daily newspaper owned by the General Confederation of Italian Industry, and Dragonfly is its aircraft. Its landing in Mainland China will mark the day of clamorous surrender of the “free world” to the harassing policy of Xi Jinping’s Communist regime.