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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 11, 2022

U.S. leverages allies to back 5G alternatives insulated from China

In a little-noticed policy achievement, the Biden administration has pushed U.S. allies to avoid Chinese companies, notably Huawei, as they build next-generation 5G communications networks.

James Andrew Lewis, who directs the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that previous administrations laid the groundwork, but the Biden administration "gets the credit for bringing the allies along." He called the overall effort a "success."

The United States has alleged that networks built with Chinese components, especially those produced by electronics giant Huawei, could be vulnerable to spying by the Chinese government. Huawei has denied this and says it is independent of the government. Still, national-security fears have pushed U.S. officials to urge that its allies choose other suppliers as they build out their most advanced telecommunications networks, known as 5G.

The U.S. restrictions have kept Huawei from securing crucial parts, including chips. "Rarely, if ever, has the U.S. directly taken on such a big overseas company and had such an impact," the Wall Street Journal reported.

Combined with the U.S. warnings, Huawei's hobbled ability to secure adequate parts has convinced key U.S. allies to turn to other companies as they pursue their 5G buildouts. 

Huawei has been blocked from 5G projects in at least nine major markets, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Other countries, such as Germany, have adopted restrictions on the company's products.

"Huawei's standing in the market has been damaged, and private, western companies such as Ericsson and Nokia have recovered," Lewis said. 

Perhaps even more important, Lewis added, "China didn't succeed in dominating the standards process" adopted for emerging 5G networks, which could have had far-reaching implications for telecommunications networks and future spying and surveillance risks.

The combination of U.S. policies and diplomacy — begun under previous presidents but culminating under Biden — have helped make 5G networks more secure. This rates as a Promise Kept. 

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