Trump's rejection of 'socialism' makes America weak in the fight for 5G against China's Huawei

Alex Wong/Getty ImagesUS President Donald Trump.
  • President Donald Trump on Thursday essentially called for the US to create its own version of China’s Huawei, but he already shot himself in the foot by rejecting a plan to do just that.
  • An Air Force brigadier general on the National Security Council suggested the US nationalize its 5G network, warning that China could “weaponize” the network in terrifying ways.
  • But the White House rejected the plan and dismissed the general from the council.
  • Trump appeared to demand that the US somehow beat Huawei at its own game, but he offered no input as to how.
  • An expert says Trump’s rejection of nationalizing or even intervening in industry makes the US weak in the fight for the future of 5G.

President Donald Trump on Thursday essentially called for the US to create its own version of Huawei, the Chinese tech giant that today offers the world’s most competitive 5G wireless infrastructure, but by rejecting China’s economic model he appears to have already shot himself in the foot.

“I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible,” Trump began on Twitter, postulating a hypothetical future network even beyond 5G.

“It is far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard,” he continued. “American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind. There is no reason that we should be lagging behind on something that is so obviously the future. I want the United States to win through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies. We must always be the leader in everything we do, especially when it comes to the very exciting world of technology!”

Telecom experts agree that 5G, short for fifth generation, is “the future” of cellular communication and that the US lags behind.

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China’s Huawei can build “5G from network core to end user and do it at a low price,” John Hemmings, the director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, told Business Insider.

“There is no American alternative,” he continued. While Cisco and to some extent Erickson and AT&T all make components of a 5G network, only China offers the soup-to-nuts kit, and does so cheaply, according to Hemmings.

Huawei achieved this feat with support of China’s government. The US’s piecemeal 5G offerings represent the fruits of the private model, but China’s 5G dominance comes from state planning.

But with the state planning comes suspicion of spying.

The Pentagon already bars anyone with ZTE or Huawei phones from entering the building. Telecom networks in the US that handle any government business are barred from using Chinese network equipment.

Trump has largely succeeded in pressuring Western countries to cut Huawei out out their networks, but Hemmings says the US offers no alternative. “5G by the US, it’s like a jungle out there,” he said. “It’s like a Frankenstein.”

Trump wants a US Huawei but can’t stomach ‘socialism’

Trump’s tweets on Thursday clearly called for a US alternative to Huawei, but when presented with a plan to do just that, his White House rejected it and kicked its author off the National Security Council.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding served on the council as the senior director for strategic planning and warned against China “weaponizing” 5G networks against democracy. He called for Trump to nationalize the development of 5G.

In a memo before his departure on January 31, 2017, Spalding spoke of what he called the “race to 5G” as if it were a new space race, Bloomberg reported.

“The more connected we are, and 5G will make us the most connected by far, the more vulnerable we become,” he wrote. “Think of self-driving cars that suddenly mow down unsuspecting pedestrians. Think of drones that fly into the intakes of airliners.”

After the memo, Spalding was sent back to the Air Force and his security detail not renewed.

Trump and Spalding had sought the same thing – an American answer to Huawei that would keep China’s Communist Party out of networks critical to the future of democracies – but Spalding’s plan would require government intervention in private industry.

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Trump routinely rejects proposals from Democrats to intervene in private industry as “socialism,” a term he has characterised as a bogeyman even though several existing US social safety-net programs could accurately be described as socialist. Trump was expected to sign an executive order banning the use of Chinese telecom equipment in US networks, but his tweets Thursday seemed to shrink from even that level of intervention into industry.

Hemmings said there was “great weakness” in the US position on 5G. “America does capitalism – it doesn’t do China,” he said, adding that 5G nevertheless needed “some state direction, like getting companies to cluster together with university laboratories” to innovate.

In 5G technology, US private industry has failed to rival its state-backed competitor in Huawei. In the face of this failure of the free market, Trump on Thursday called for US industry to simply try harder or do better.

But without state intervention into the industry, China looks set to peel off US allies with better offerings in the space and no coherent US alternatives. The UK and Germany, for example, are already balking at US demands to drop Chinese tech from their networks.

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