US war on Huawei misses the ‘control point’

Generals always fight the last war. The befuddled strategists of the Donald Trump administration provide a sad illustration of this adage.

After four years of a trade war and then a tech war against China, senior American diplomats last week went above the heads of European governments to exhort European corporate executives to cancel their cloud business with Huawei, China’s national champion in telecommunications equipment.

It has belatedly dawned on Washington’s wolf warriors that the battle is not about territory, or the South China Sea, or any of the other obsolete fixed ideas of the geopolitics taught at the Naval College, but rather about a new raw material whose 21st-century role overshadows oil, rare earths, minerals and the other “control points” of the past century.

The engine of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is artificial intelligence (AI), and the fuel that powers AI is data. Huawei may be the world’s biggest telecommunications equipment company, with a 31% global market share during the first half of 2020, but its decisive business is the gathering and porting of data.

That is the “control point” in the world economy, as Huawei’s Chief Technology Officer Paul Scanlon explained in an interview found in my book, You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-Form the World.