Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently took the opportunity presented by a BBC Radio 4 documentary to take aim at both Huawei and the US government response to the Chinese tech powerhouse. The company has "engaged in practices that are not acceptable in national security," Mr. Schmidt says. But that the response of the US government has not been adequate or helpful either.
For clarity, Mr. Schmidt worked as Google's CEO from 2001 through 2011. He then served as executive chairman to the search giant's parent company, Alphabet, through 2017 before serving as a board member. Then, in 2018, he shifted gears again to serve in an advisory capacity until early 2020. Mr. Schmidt now serves as chair to the Pentagon Defence Innovation Board.
The answer to the Huawei problem, Mr. Schmidt says, is not the decoupling of the technology sectors in China and the US. It's to compete.
The former Google exec believes the US needs to step up its game
Anti-China sentiments with regard to technology, Mr. Schmidt implies, largely boil down to prejudices. Those are prejudices the former exec admits to having held himself. For instance, many believe that China's tech companies are good at copying and organizing things, putting large numbers of people behind their endeavors. The view, overall, seems to be that Chinese companies are good at stealing things.
The reality, Mr. Schmidt continues, is that the "Chinese are just as good, and maybe better" than "the West" where it really matters. That's on research and innovation.
Those appear to be key areas where the US government has failed to address the threat of Huawei, the former Google exec asserts. And that's because leadership in the US has failed to address the underlying challenge. Namely, that Huawei is a Chinses company that's building a better product than competitors on the global stage.
That includes US competitors, a fact that Mr. Schmidt says stems partly from the fact that the "West" lacks the capacity to manufacture semiconductor chips, among other things. It would better serve the US to have China using chips from Western companies than building its own.
As Huawei builds out its own solutions, he continues, the common global platform for interchange is degraded. Huawei is essentially forced to create a competing platform. In effect, the West takes its influence and values out of those global platforms, by forcing competitors in the industry onto segregated platforms. Once diverged, Schmidt indicates, its all but impossible to get the global platform back.
…but Huawei is still a threat to be reckoned with
Any real solution will need to be more focused on competing directly than on isolation. While Mr. Schmidt does not agree with the "Chinese model" of investment by the government, he does indicate that government participation is key to success when it comes to addressing the unique threat posed by Huawei. And that threat does need to be addressed.
Huawei has denied any wrong-doing, including releasing a statement directed in response to Mr. Schmidt's comments on the matter. The company says that the statements and allegations simply are "not true" or backed by evidence. As a company, Huawei continues, it acts completely separately from any government influence.
The company further states that it agrees with Mr. Schimdt about the need for global platforms and standards. That "fosters competition." And that benefits everyone, Huawei says, while still ensuring innovation.
Mr. Schmidt says that it's undeniable that "information from Hauwei routers ultimately ended up in hands that would appear to be the state." It's less clear exactly how that happened. But it is possible to think of the company as a "means" for "signals intelligence."
But, the Pentagon Defence Innovation Board chairman also notes that the West needs to invest in research and work on better collaboration between the private sector, state, and academia. That's if it wants to compete with Huawei while maintaining global platforms. While the Chinese tech giant is struggling, it's been able to maintain its dominance in the market despite being isolated.
Summarily, that means the best solution, according to the former Google executive, is for the US government and other Western powers to be competing with Huawei rather than pushing it out.