Chinese Tech Firms sabotaging World Digital Infrastructure
China’s global technological expansion is being led by Chinese firms that have been entrusted to significantly takeover the global surveillance domain across the world. Chinese telecommunication companies such as Huawei, ZTE Corps, Hikvision and others, in the recent decade, have been heavily funded by the Chinese Communist Party. This has led to Huawei controlling approximately 30% of the global telecom infrastructure market and has gained 91 contracts from different cities across the globe to set up 5G networks.
The Chinese state apparatus has also been actively encouraging such companies to expand across the world in the sectors concerning cyber-security, digital surveillance, AI enabled facial recognition amongst others. The CCP has granted subsidies amounting up to $75 billion to Huawei and around $694 million to Hikvision in the recent years and has led many to suspect that a global tech takeover is a part of the CCPs global vision of domination. This has invariably enabled these companies to sell their equipment to up to 30% less than their competitors causing a severe disruption in the market as well.
Yet, the most worrying component of the Chinese tech companies’ expansionist endeavour has been the security threat they pose to the parent nation. The U.S had recently labelled 5 of these prominent Chinese firms as a severe ‘threat to National Security’ causing many countries to backtrack on their signed contracts with these firms. The Chinese firms on the list included ZTE Corps, Hikvision and Huawei amongst some others, majorly comprising of companies that have led the charge in China’s technological overseas expansion.
A significant portion of the threat however comes from China’s internal legislation that mandates these companies to share any form of data that the CCP would demand to be sought. The National Intelligence Law enacted in 2017 instructs citizens and domestic institutions to aid the government in intelligence gathering in matters that the state deems as necessary. On the CCP’s part, this is a serious effort to gather vital and sensitive information that could enable it to seek an advantageous position over other nations; more so upon nations that have Chinese firms operating and installing advanced technologies in their cities and regions.
Furthermore, a seriously concerning prospect that should be causing a widespread cancellation of technological deals with the Chinese companies, is the ‘Smart City’ and ‘Safe City’ Initiative developed by Huawei. The Safe City project is stated to be concerning to the automation of policing through video camera and other digitalized technologies. This technology, as claimed, enables monitoring and diagnosis of suspicious activities in the region it covers. The Smart City initiative also includes the use of video surveillance tech but chiefly devoted for the purpose of automating municipal functions within local governments including traffic control, power and water distribution, garbage disposal and collection etc. As it may seem, these projects have come under great scrutiny by surveillance and technology experts who claim that Huawei’s technology has more often than not failed on its vulnerability test and are prone to backdoor meddling. This has been a cause for concern for many years as many of Huawei’s previous projects have been investigated and found to be rigged for stealing sensitive information, one of them being from the African Union’s building in Ethiopia; a project funded and executed by both Chinese state-owned subsidiaries and Huawei.
Huawei has officially claimed to have completed building around 160 Smart City projects across 100 countries. The fact that such projects are not only a national security threat but also a direct infringement of national sovereignty is a worrying concern that should be made the top-most priority of governments across the globe. The lack of transparency in declaring the sourcing of these equipment’s and their vulnerability reports furthers the suspicion these vaguely reported projects generate.
A Washington based think tank recently revealed Huawei was making rapid advances in the domain of cloud infrastructure as well. Cloud Infrastructure is the vital component required for cloud computing which includes network resources and cloud storage. Huawei has been in the recent years building a strategically important position in the sector by signing 70 deals with 41 countries for the establishment of the service mechanism that would facilitate the technological infrastructure. These deals run mostly across the developing world that have been lured in due to sweetened Chinese financing. Although the details of such deals are mostly confidential in nature, thereby limiting one’s assessment in how a national government would eventually repay for tech infrastructural developments that are loaned by Chinese techs. In any case, it would be needless to state that given China’s notorious history in lending high rated finances, a state asset takeover is the most likely scenario in which these loans would be repaid if the parent nation was to default in timely repayments.
China’s technological advancements in to other countries are however driven by Xi Jinping’s prominent idea of building a digital silk route that would predominantly be led by China and its companies. This however poses some very serious threats to the digital sovereignty of various countries that have accepted projects initiated by Chinese firms such as Huawei and the others.
Firstly, it jeopardizes the host country’s digital autonomy at the hands of China that has had a disturbing past of attempting to steal sensitive data through Chinese companies and their invested projects. Secondly, it provides Chinese entities with an unmatchable leverage of shutting down entire systems built by firms that are run by the CCP; this thereby poses a dire national security threat that presents China with an advantage of strong-arming nations that may perhaps feel to act otherwise in differing situations.
Although many countries across the world have begun realizing the dangers posed by Chinese technological advancements, especially by the Chinese owned Huawei, many independent countries however still rely deeply on Chinese tech for their development goals. For instance, Africa has been heavily reliant on Chinese tech for their overall development on various fronts, yet not without its own set of obstacles. Subsidiaries of Huawei and its partnering firms own up to 70% of the 4G network in the African continent and has been significantly building the 5G infrastructure in the continent. Transmission, another one of the Chinese owned firms along with its three other brands, Techno, Infiinix and Itel have dominated the African market by selling nearly half of all the smartphones in Africa in last couple of years. These aspects have wider implications in terms of how China is constantly making the continent dependent on Chinese tech.
Yet, astonishingly it is not only the African market that seems to be gripped by the dominance of Chinese tech, countries from Southeast and West Asia too are digitalizing at the behest of Chinese technologies. Moreover, countries from the region have signed the greatest number of contracts with Huawei for the development of their tech and digital infrastructure. Even countries from Europe have been entangled in such projects which poses a significant amount of vulnerability to the countries concerned. Therefore, it is perhaps of greater importance than ever, that nations revisit their tech-developmental deals with Chinese firms, for their shared history of catering to the CCP does not seem promising for the host nations concerned. At the very least, these deals and developmental projects of surveillance tools and cyber-security are domains that need to be charted into with utmost caution. Maintaining a nation’s national sovereignty is the primary objective of any and every nation-state. China with its peculiar objectives is attempting to by-pass the obstacle of convincing nations to entrust its rise but, on a total contrary, is rather on the path of using coercive means to sabotage the digital infrastructure of nations that are least concerned about the rising Chinese threat.