Concerns over Huawei expose fear of a fast-rising nation, says don

Washington's decision to blacklist Huawei on security grounds has also hurt the economic interests of American companies, given how integrated Sino-US supply chains are.
Washington's decision to blacklist Huawei on security grounds has also hurt the economic interests of American companies, given how integrated Sino-US supply chains are.PHOTO: REUTERS

Global concerns over Chinese telecommunications giant Hua-wei's 5G technology are reasonable, but expose a low tolerance for risk and a fear of a fast-rising na-tion that has found success without following tried-and-tested rules, a Chinese expert said yesterday.

Professor Jia Qingguo of Peking University told the Nikkei Future of Asia conference: "If you want to get benefits from international trade, from peaceful coexistence, you have to develop some level of risk tolerance... Without risk tolerance, we are going to be confronting each other, and our economies are going to decouple."

The so-called "clash of civilisations" between the United States and China came under the spotlight in a panel discussion on the deepening conflict between the two superpowers and its ensuing impact.

Prof Jia believes the US is trying to undermine China's rise and deprive it of a stake in writing the current international order.

"If successful, then China will be outside this global order with no stake," he said. "It is going to be a very dangerous world. I would counsel caution on this."

He added: "Every country should take the proper precautions to guard against potential risks when they engage in high tech, but they have to have some risk tolerance. Otherwise, we cannot coexist peacefully."

This prompted American expert Daniel Twining, president of the International Republican Institute, to reply that the crux of the issue is not just about Huawei, but the role of technology in Chinese society.

 
 
 

"The fact that there is very little division in China between the party, the state and broader society means that China actually can export authoritarian control through technology," he said. "Huawei is an example of how the Chinese private sector can feed back into elements of state control in China."

Washington's decision to blacklist Huawei on security grounds has also hurt the economic interests of American companies, given how integrated Sino-US supply chains are, he said. And as such, it is not a zero-sum game as both countries suffer.

Still, Dr Twining said: "This is an important debate and an important moment in the relationship, because I think both countries are willing to take some economic pain to create a different balance. But it is quite profound, and we are still trying to figure out what that means."

Prof Jia was likewise introspective: "China's rise was very fast, so China needs to learn how to behave from a position of strength, to know that things are really complicated. We have a lot to learn."

He added that the world needs to learn how to cope with China more sophisticatedly, and countries caught in between "should learn how to make judgments on the merit of specific issues rather than taking sides, which can be very dangerous".

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2019, with the headline 'Concerns over Huawei expose fear of a fast-rising nation, says don'. Print Edition | Subscribe