Tensions between China and the U.S. have climbed ever higher in recent months, with clashes over Chinese tech companies becoming a huge flash point. David Sanger, The Times’s national security correspondent, joined us for a DealBook Debrief call with readers to discuss the battle between Washington and Beijing over tech companies like Huawei and TikTok.
The fundamental concern of the Trump administration is America’s national infrastructure. David compared the installation of 5G wireless technology to the F-35 jet fighter, a more obviously crucial component to national defense. He said that the White House’s effort to ban Huawei products from the 5G network came down to this question: “If you turn your network infrastructure over to a foreign power and they’re controlling it, what would happen if the order came down in a time of conflict to turn it off?”
There’s a difference between Huawei and TikTok, the Chinese video app that the Trump administration has threatened to ban over concerns about the security of users’ data. If 5G technology was comparable to the F-35 in terms of importance, David said, social media is akin to military uniforms.
The Trump administration may have persuaded Britain to bar Huawei from its 5G networks, and Europe may also take a harder line on the Chinese telecom equipment maker. But Huawei still has plenty of customers around the globe, potentially dividing the world into American and Chinese internet tech. And even then, simply excluding Huawei from the U.S.-centric internet won’t be easy, David cautioned. “What we’re doing right now over Zoom or over social media, chances are a good deal of it’s going to run through a Chinese switch somewhere in the world,” he noted.