ANALYSIS: What’s the arrest of the Huawei executive got to do with you?

By: Dr Ian Cook, Murdoch University Senior Lecturer In Global Politics & Policies.

Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of the US government is part of a fight between the US and China that will shape international economics, politics and telecommunications for decades.

And it’s a fight that Australia can’t avoid. As usual we’re caught between our biggest trading partner (China) and our most important political partner (the USA). It’s worse than that, though, because the fight will also decide how the international 5G network operates. And we are just as worried about 5G network based on equipment provided by Chinese companies.

Because the battle to keep Huawei from becoming the dominant telecommunications company is also a battle to keep Chinese companies, including Huawei and ZTE, from being the dominant provider of the technologies that make up the world’s next communications network.

Huawei’s growth has been unstoppable and, given the turnover in smartphones, it is poised to become the dominant player in that market. It’s also the biggest telecommunications equipment provider. So most of us are likely to be using Huawei phones but not a network that is based on equipment produced by Chinese companies.

Unless we call someone in one of the many developing countries that are using equipment provided by Chinese companies, which these countries do either because it is cheaper or because it’s a gift from the Chinese government (as part of its Belt and Roads Initiative).

And concerns over the Chinese government’s capacity to use this equipment for a variety of forms of surveillance will surround these networks. And those in governments in the UK, Canada, the USA and New Zealand think this is what the Chinese government will do.

This fight over which countries provide the backbone for the world’s 5G network will affect everyone in a direct and indirect way. It’s about which companies will dominate in a 5G world, which will provide the equipment that forms the network and which government might be able to access data that passes over that network.

And you and I might end up wondering what happens when we connect to someone on a device produced by a Chinese company or over a network based on equipment provided by Chinese companies.

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