Martyn Richard Jones
Bruxelles 20th May 2019
I have just read Simon Jenkin’s article, published in The Guardian, on the current barney between the USA and China – “Google’s Huawei ban is good news: tech giants shouldn’t always get their way“.
This is one of those rare occasions when I don’t agree entirely with what Simon has to say, but, the piece still carries a lot of good sense and finely tuned criticism.
For me, this quarrel isn’t fundamentally about security or reining in big-tech. This is essentially about trade wars, base protection, maintaining power and imposing influence. In short, it’s about hubris, intimidation and violence on the global political stage.
But, at the bottom of all of this is the Trump administration’s Homeric ignorance and epic ability to simply fanny-around.
What do I mean?
China makes a massive amount of high-tech gadgets for the USA, EU and other markets. Just imagine the staggering quantity of made-in-China laptops, tablets and smartphones that you find almost everywhere in governmental agencies and major corporations. Then ponder why there are no special sanctions for most of this? After all, if a smartphone is a security risk, what does that make a laptop?
I lost my phone a few weeks ago. I left it on the train while accompanying my partner to Brussels airport. I reported the loss to the train company. After waiting for more than 36 hours with no news I typed “find my mobile phone” into the browser. Within twenty minutes I have had the location of my phone. It was in a railway siding in Ghent where train carriages are cleaned. So, I went onto Twitter to update the Lost & Found folk at the rail company. Within 24 hours they find my rucksack and phone, ready to pick up from Ghent station. Result? One very happy punter.
But, if I can find my phone so easily, who can use this same technology to track anyone they wish?
But this is just personal trivia.
What is really going on?
During World War One the USA started to understand the importance of global telecommunications. They also came to understand they were well behind Britain in this respect. So they set their goal to never be in second position to anyone, especially not Britain. This attitude has shaped their global ambitions for more than a century. Little wonder then that they are paranoid about the rise of China, don’t know how to respond to it, and like an animal cornered by figments of its own imagination, lashes out, but not in any coherent, cohesive or sensible way. When Rumsfeld once commented that the USA could open up hostile fronts and control everything, everywhere it was clear that the USA was in a bad way, politically. And to be fair, things didn’t improve, even with the “Yes, we can” Obama Administration.
The fact is that Google is part of the USA’s very own 21st century version of Cable & Wireless (not in a literal sense but in a strategic sense) and so too is Microsoft and Oracle and to a lesser extent Apple, and just as the British dominated telecommunications through superior communications technology, but more importantly, with an amazing ability to seek out and destroy the enemies telecommunications capability, so too are these businesses a potential lethal weapon in the armoury of the USA. Think of it like insurance. They can afford it.
This in some ways defines the Trump Administration’s behaviour and actions. It is a melange of stupidity, hubris and dopey strategy, but it doesn’t mean that the outcomes won’t be beneficial to the USA. Let’s wait and see. Maybe it’s God’s way of telling peoples they have too much power and influence?
So, let this also be a cautionary tale for all Brexiteers who assume that the USA will always be the UK’s special mate. It just doesn’t work that way. And, it doesn’t even really matter who is in the White House. At the turn of the twentieth century the USA wanted to bring the British Empire down, to cut it down to size and that feeling really hasn’t gone away.
Thank you for reading.
All the best,