Huawei and the security of its 5G infrastructure has been a flashpoint in the U.S.-China trade war for well over a year now. Although it appears to have taken a backseat for the time being (the U.S. Department of Commerce has once again extended Huawei’s temporary general license), the issue of Huawei’s role in the American economy is still as contentious as ever.
An Economist video titled ‘Is America Right to Fear Huawei?’ takes a deeper look at the politicization of 5G in the U.S. and the Trump administration’s war against China and Huawei. In the middle of this war is the American farmer, who stands to lose through increasing agricultural tariffs (i.e. soybeans) or a potential ban on Huawei’s affordable infrastructure.
Joe Franell, CEO of Eastern Oregon Telecom, states in the video when speaking with a local farmer,
“You’re using the Internet, from Eastern Oregon Telecom, to be able to run, monitor, control, all of these pivot irrigation systems.”
The farmer replies,
“I have no idea how we’d do without it.”
“The Huawei equipment was 30-40% less than everything else on the market and it’s more capable and more reliable. This economic boom that’s out here, all of this effective agriculture that’s going on out here would not be effective or even possible without Internet connectivity.”
According to James A. Lewis, Senior VP, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Huawei is able to offer these significantly cheaper technologies because it is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government. He also suggests that Huawei is essentially an arm of the Chinese government, a statement that’s hard to argue with when considering that Chinese intelligence law specifically requires Chinese organizations to co-operate with the state intelligence work.
Farnell concludes that despite the concern around Huawei, an all-out ban on foreign telecom providers like Huawei could “cripple” rural communities like the ones he serves. It’s ironic to find that some U.S. farmers—even in the age of “America First”—are competitive only because of foreign firms like Huawei.