Analysis & Opinions - The Washington Post

We May Be Dramatically Overestimating China’s Capabilities

| May 05, 2020

As the United States’ confrontation with China escalates, the Trump administration may be making a classic American mistake: overestimating its adversary’s technological competence and ability to control events.

The outbreak in Wuhan of the novel coronavirus shows how ragged and disorderly the Chinese police state was in the initial weeks of the pandemic. Beijing’s response was to suppress and manipulate information, at home and abroad. Trump administration officials have painted this as a Chinese plot against the West, but it looks more like a frantic effort by a one-party state to survive a domestic crisis.

When the pandemic has eventually subsided, the global economic battle between the United States and China will continue. At the center of this contest will be Huawei, the telecommunications company that is China’s technology champion. The Trump administration has been waging a multi-front war on Huawei, trying to block transfer of U.S. technology by placing the company on an “entity list” of dangerous competitors, and by pressuring Britain and other allies not to buy Huawei gear for their 5G networks.

This anti-Huawei campaign overlooks two hidden factors that may be more successful than trying to strong-arm allies: First, Huawei is an inefficient and sometimes sloppy software producer. British intelligence, which has studied Huawei systems for a decade, has found them riddled with dangerous glitches. Second, Huawei’s approach to 5G technology may soon be replaced by a much better architecture pioneered by U.S. and Japanese companies.

Kurt Campbell, the chief Asia strategist during the Obama administration, who now heads a consulting firm, explains: “As in the past — with the supposed ‘missile gap’ between us and the Soviets in the 1950s and the supposedly unstoppable Japanese economy in the ’80s — we have ‘10-footed’ Huawei. The company is not the nimble dynamo depicted in the media.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ignatius, David.“We May Be Dramatically Overestimating China’s Capabilities.” The Washington Post, May 5, 2020.

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