Europe is controversially discussing whether to ban the Chinese tech-giant Huawei from the rollout of the new generation of mobile infrastructure, better known as 5G, not least due to conflicting pressures from the governments of the United States and the People’s Republic of China. 5G is a critical infrastructure and will penetrate European society and its economy to an unprecedented extent. It will revolutionize our societies enabling self-driving vehicles and driving the next wave of automation of industrial production.
Proponents of a ban argue that Huawei is closely allied with the authoritarian Chinese party-state, which could utilize Huawei equipment for espionage and sabotage. The argument is that banning Huawei is a matter of increasing network security in Europe. Critics of a ban, in turn, point to economic advantages of economic cooperation in China and of an early rollout of 5G.
In my research, I aim to add to the picture the issue of technological dependencies. This departs from the assumption that network security is indeed a matter of concern. However, to address this issue, technological measures are more effective than an outright ban of a supplier. In addition to network security, we should rather consider that China could leverage European (over-)dependence on Chinese technology to extract political concessions from the EU. The conflict over 5G and Huawei will probably turn out to be the first of many similar conflicts.
At a time of rising geopolitical and geo-economic tensions between the US and China, Europe finds itself in an uncomfortable position. While the European discussion mainly focusses on how to reach European "digital sovereignty" through self-reliance, I aim to contribute to the question how the European Union could preserve access to strategic technology by means of diversification of the supply chain and underlying patents.
In my work, I actively aim to cooperate with technical experts (engineers, computer scientists, hackers), economists, lawyers, industry, policymakers and social scientists, particularly China scholars.
Research on European technology dependency is part of my engagement in the China in Europe Research Network as well as of my work in the Europe Program of The Swedish Institute of International Affairs.
Related selected publications & media appearances:
Publication: (with John Seaman and Daniel Voelsen): 5G and the US-China Tech Rivalry – a test for Europe’s future in the digital age. How can Europe shift from back foot to front foot? SWP Comment. Berlin: SWP.
Media (in German): "Streit um die „Lex Huawei“", 18 December 2020, Deutschlandfunk (Radio)
Media (in Swedish): “Forskaren: Därför kan man inte lita på Huawei“, 4 February 2020.