China Trade Policy, Like 'Muslim Ban,' Needs Rethinking

China Trade Policy, Like 'Muslim Ban,' Needs Rethinking

Remember early in President Trump’s administration when he called for a total ban on Muslim immigration to the United States?

It proved unwise and unnecessary, and the president adjusted. He reduced the ban to cover just seven countries – from a list devised by the Obama administration – that could not produce adequate background information on potential immigrants to determine if they were part of terrorist groups.

The policy has worked. It has been upheld by the highest court in the land. And it is still in place today.

A similar process seems in store for Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications firm. The situation is similar – recent events make punishing a Chinese firm, especially one with the potential to perform espionage operations in the United States, a popular political move. And a total ban – which comes off as a feel-good, get-tough measure – is not necessary to accomplish the goals and, in fact, could prove counterproductive.

The Trump administration has put Huawei on a trade blacklist. The ban forbids Huawei from selling software needed for 5G to U.S. tech companies to develop their own 5G solutions.

And as TechCrunch reported, the United States has threatened to cut off Huawei’s fast-growing smart phone unit from Alphabet, whose Android operating system is used in Huawei phones, and from a range of big chip suppliers.

Regardless of what the Trump administration or anyone in the United States says or does, Huawei is going to be a major player in 5G – the next generation of wireless communications. The world’s largest maker of telecom gear already has two-thirds of the contracts to provide 5G technology outside of China. The company has shipped 150,000 base stations to countries including South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Finland and others. And this is with the United States actively working to discourage companies from doing business with Huawei.

Companies in the United States that seek to bring 5G technology and its benefits to American consumers — such as Dell, Qualcomm, Micron, Google and Intel — also will be stymied if the ban remains in place.

Demand exists in the United States for the products Huawei provides. 5G technology holds the hope of expanding broadband to the 30 percent of Americans in rural areas who still don’t have access to it, and the areas that could most benefit — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Wisconsin, among others — also happen to be electoral battlegrounds in the 2020 election.

America’s 6 million users of pacemakers also would benefit from a rethink of administration policies on this matter. 5G technology is instrumental in allowing doctors to monitor patients from afar. 

This is not to make light of the security concerns raised by the administration and others. It is a highly competitive market, and Chinese firms have made a practice in recent years of stealing technology or demanding it of companies that use Chinese products in their own or seek to do business in its lucrative markets.

But there are ways to address all the concerns — to maintain national security and allow Huawei to help American consumers gain access to this new generation of technology products.

A more surgical approach — one that addresses security concerns and allows the firm access to the markets Americans need it to participate in – is possible and practical and prudent given the needs of our tech firms, our rural areas and the millions of patients whose health care would be improved through 5G technology.

President Trump has been right to pay attention to China. Trade deals made with past administrations compromised America’s manufacturing capacity, its ability to protect its intellectual property and its national security. He is right to make things tough on the Chinese until they agree to deal with the United States in a fair and equitable way.

He has been right to protect American national security infrastructure and to address the tremendous imbalance in agricultural trade. His moves have hurt China far more than they have hurt the United States.

But this is similar to the total ban on Muslims — which ended up being too harsh and was dialed back accordingly. It’s time to take another look at what Huawei does, to what degree it presents a security threat and in what ways the U.S. can circumvent that threat and benefit from trade with the firm without compromising national security.

Millions of patients and the success of the president and his allies at the polls in 2020 could hang in the balance.

Brian McNicoll is a former director of communications for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and a former senior writer for the conservative Heritage Foundation. 

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