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Over the last fortnight, rising tensions between China and Australia have spilled over into a bitter war of words. “Those who willfully [sic] hurt Chinese companies with an excuse of national security will meet their nemesis,” an editorial in one of China’s state newspapers warned last week. Australia’s crime? Banning Huawei and ZTE, two of China’s biggest tech firms, from operating in its 5G infrastructure.
The move is a major blow for the two companies and, perhaps more importantly, the perception of Chinese tech globally. But as the editorial keenly notes, not all countries have taken such a hardline stance against its businesses. While the US and Australia have cracked down on Huawei and ZTE in recent months, the UK is continuing to nurture its relationship with China’s tech giants. Theresa May recently held a one-on-one meeting with Huawei’s chairwoman and the company has since pledged to procure £3bn of British goods over the next five years.
But not everyone is comfortable with the relationship. A report published by the National Cyber Security Centre in July cast doubt on the security of some Huawei telecoms products, and in an article for the Sunday Times earlier this month, the director of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, warned that the UK must take steps to mitigate the risks of Chinese technology. But he stopped short of calling for a ban, and acknowledged that critical technologies are “increasingly likely to come from China”.
The scale of China’s investment in new tech is matched only by Silicon Valley’s, but the government hopes its domestic tech sector will overtake the US’s in the near future. It wants to lead the world in AI, for example, and plans to turn it into a $1tn national industry by 2030. If it succeeds, its technology is likely to dominate many more sectors than just telecoms. The rising super power might consider itself the West’s nemesis, but its tech is here to stay.