Op-Ed: What Silicon Valley must sacrifice to curb China’s exploitation of U.S. tech firms
One of the world’s biggest tech companies, Apple, has taken steps in recent months to expand its operations in China amid Beijing’s crackdown on personal freedom and free expression. But it’s a very different story for Huawei, another Chinese tech giant that has faced similar restrictions for more than a decade.
The company has seen its value fall and its global reach shrink in recent months, as U.S. officials have tried to force it to provide the phone service for last year’s presidential inauguration, and as Washington seeks to cut its access to 5G technology, which many worry will give China an upper hand in the future of the digital economy.
This is what the U.S. can expect when it grants the company a license to sell 5G-connected phones in the U.S.: a loss of access to key markets in the first year, followed by a steady decline in its international presence — and, ultimately, a shrinking Chinese smartphone ecosystem that is left in the dust.
It should not be surprising to find that an American tech company would prioritize a deal that allows it to have access to consumers in China and not compromise its integrity, but it is a huge disappointment to see what happens when companies like Apple or Huawei allow the state to dictate their actions.
Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, is a very different person from the president of Apple.
Chinese leaders have a habit of making big decisions through intimidation, rather than the type of rational debate that could produce meaningful policy change. In this case, the threat of public exposure of the company in the U.S. prompted a swift decision to move its operations to China.
Some observers fear that Huawei wants to stay ahead of Apple, a company that was a pioneer in bringing technology from the East to the West and has been the subject of intense criticism for its role in the U.S. presidential campaign. That could open up the company for a much worse fate.
But as we’ve seen before, China has a habit of making big decisions through intimidation and manipulation. It also has a habit of making companies take the path