-LE MONDE DIPLOMATIC - Oct, 2020 -
China will create its own technological future
Huawei, backed by the Chinese state, developed and helped shape 5G, the next generation of mobile connectivity. Europe has its own potential suppliers but the US fears this and is restricting the use of Chinese technology in America. This has made Chinese tech firms ever more resilient.
In 1994, when Huawei was still a minor domestic player selling switches for telephone networks, its founder Ren Zhengfei met China’s leader Jiang Zemin. Ren, a former engineer with the People’s Liberation Army who went into consumer electronics, played the patriotic card, cautioning Jiang that ‘switching equipment technology was related to national security, and that a nation that did not have its own switching equipment was like one that lacked its own military’ (1). A quarter of a century later, other countries, led by the US, have belatedly grasped the wisdom of Ren’s remarks; the technology in question today is 5G, and it is Huawei’s equipment that they regard as a danger to their national security.
Huawei is an employee-owned firm with a highly unusual rotating leadership structure, a disdain for public markets — Ren Zhengfei finds them too ‘greedy’ — and a corporate ethos that venerates Maoist values and emphasises indigenous innovation as a means of lessening China’s dependence on imperialist foreign firms.