China, cyber-security, espionage, Huawei, legalism, Michael Hiltzik, national security, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, precautionary principle, rule of law, state capitalism, The Economist, transparency
Anyone still harboring doubts that China’s government and its allies in the American offshoring lobby have snookered otherwise smart reporters about the nature of the PRC’s economic system and how best to cope with it? If so, look no further than Michael Hiltzik’s new Los Angeles Times column about Huawei.
According to Hiltzik, the telecommunications giant has been largely shut out of the U.S. market by “commercial xenophobia.” The U.S. government, he writes, has not officially banned the sale of Huawei products. But it’s accomplished this aim for all intents and purposes “through bureaucratic winks and hints” that are based on a Congressional committee report that was “long on innuendo and short on hard information.” As a result, Huawei has been unfairly forced to prove a negative – that it is not assisting Chinese government espionage efforts.
Here of course is the problem. Hiltzik – and other apologists for China, like The Economist magazine he seems to consider gospel on such matters – apparently believe that Chinese companies like Huawei are as transparent as private sector companies everywhere. In their view, non-Chinese authorities have ready access to corporate records at Huawei and other Chinese companies, and face no difficulties in determining these firms’ ties to Beijing, and even any spying they may be carrying out. So it’s manifestly unjust to base policy on observation’s like the Congressional report’s conclusion that “China has the means, opportunity, and motive to use telecommunications companies for malicious purposes.”
Even if China didn’t have a scary record of government-sponsored cyber-hacking, these views might be reasonable – if China had anything remotely like a free market economy where reasonably bright lines separate the public and private sectors, or if China’s legal and corporate governance systems were based on anything remotely like the free flow of knowledge and rule of law. But who possessing a working brain really believes any of those propositions?
In fact, because China (and many other countries run by opaque bureaucracies and lacking rule of law traditions) are so fundamentally different from the United States, dealing with it with American legal principles that are justly revered in U.S. domestic affairs too often turns policy into an idiot.
As I wrote shortly after the Congress’ Huawei report came out, “because China is so thoroughly different and troublesome, handling it conventionally could amount to waiting for potential intelligence or security debacles to become actual. So the only responsible approach is precautionary — placing a heavy burden on China’s state capitalist system to prove its innocence.” Two years later, a major problem with America’s China policy is that Washington’s approach to Huawei remains an all-too-exceptional example of rejecting policy idiocy and embracing common sense.