Ilyar Dulat, Kayla Ibrahim, Morgan Rose, Madison Sargeant, and Tyler Wilkins are Interns at the College of Information and Cyberspace at the National Defense University. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: China’s technological rise threatens U.S. interests both on and off the battlefield.
Date Originally Written: July 22, 2019.
Date Originally Published: February 10, 2020.
Author and / or Article Point of View: This article is written from the point of view of the United States Government.
Background: Xi Jinping, the Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission. affirmed in 2012 that China is acting to redefine the international world order through revisionist policies. These policies foster an environment open to authoritarianism thus undermining Western liberal values. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) utilizes emerging technologies to restrict individual freedoms of Chinese citizens, in and out of cyberspace. Subsequently, Chinese companies have exported this freedom-restricting technology to other countries, such as Ethiopia and Iran, for little cost. These technologies, which include Artificial Intelligence-based surveillance systems and nationalized Internet services, allow authoritarian governments to effectively suppress political dissent and discourse within their states. Essentially monopolizing the tech industry through low prices, China hopes to gain the loyalty of these states to obtain the political clout necessary to overcome the United States as the global hegemon.
Significance: Among the technologies China is pursuing, 5G is of particular interest to the U.S. If China becomes the leader of 5G network technologies and artificial intelligence, this will allow for opportunities to disrupt the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. China has been able to aid regimes and fragmented democracies in repressing freedom of speech and restricting human rights using “digital tools of surveillance and control.” Furthermore, China’s National Security Law of 2015 requires all Chinese tech companies’ compliance with the CCP. These Chinese tech companies are legally bound to share data and information housed on Chinese technology, both in-state and abroad. They are also required to remain silent about their disclosure of private data to the CCP. As such, information about private citizens and governments around the world is provided to the Chinese government without transparency. By deploying hardware and software for countries seeking to expand their networks, the CCP could use its authority over domestic tech companies to gain access to information transferred over Chinese built networks, posing a significant threat to the national security interests of the U.S. and its Allies and Partners. With China leading 5G, the military forces of the U.S. and its Allies and Partners would be restricted in their ability to rely on indigenous telecoms abroad, which could cripple operations critical to U.S. interests . This risk becomes even greater with the threat of U.S. Allies and Partners adopting Chinese 5G infrastructure, despite the harm this move would do to information sharing with the United States.
If China continues its current trajectory, the U.S. and its advocacy for personal freedoms will grow increasingly marginal in the discussion of human rights in the digital age. In light of the increasing importance of the cyber domain, the United States cannot afford to assume that its global leadership will seamlessly transfer to, and maintain itself within, cyberspace. The United States’ position as a leader in cyber technology is under threat unless it vigilantly pursues leadership in advancing and regulating the exchange of digital information.
Option #1: Domestic Investment.
The U.S. government could facilitate a favorable environment for the development of 5G infrastructure through domestic telecom providers. Thus far, Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE have been able to outbid major European companies for 5G contracts. American companies that are developing 5G infrastructure are not large enough to compete at this time. By investing in 5G development domestically, the U.S. and its Allies and Partners would have 5G options other than Huawei and ZTE available to them. This option provides American companies with a playing field equal to their Chinese counterparts.
Risk: Congressional approval to fund 5G infrastructure development will prove to be a major obstacle. Funding a development project can quickly become a bipartisan issue. Fiscal conservatives might argue that markets should drive development, while those who believe in strong government oversight might argue that the government should spearhead 5G development. Additionally, government subsidized projects have previously failed. As such, there is no guarantee 5G will be different.
Gain: By investing in domestic telecommunication companies, the United States can remain independent from Chinese infrastructure by mitigating further Chinese expansion. With the U.S. investing domestically and giving subsidies to companies such as Qualcomm and Verizon, American companies can develop their technology faster in an attempt to compete with Huawei and ZTE.
Option #2: Foreign Subsidization.
The U.S. supports European competitors Nokia and Ericsson, through loans and subsidies, against Huawei and ZTE. In doing so, the United States could offer a conduit for these companies to produce 5G technology at a more competitive price. By providing loans and subsidies to these European companies, the United States delivers a means for these companies to offer more competitive prices and possibly outbid Huawei and ZTE.
Risk: The American people may be hostile towards a policy that provides U.S. tax dollars to foreign entities. While the U.S. can provide stipulations that come with the funding provided, the U.S. ultimately sacrifices much of the control over the development and implementation of 5G infrastructure.
Gain: Supporting European tech companies such as Nokia and Ericsson would help deter allied nations from investing in Chinese 5G infrastructure. This option would reinforce the U.S.’s commitment to its European allies, and serve as a reminder that the United States maintains its position as the leader of the liberal international order. Most importantly, this option makes friendlier telecommunications companies more competitive in international markets.
Other Comments: Both options above would also include the U.S. defining regulations and enforcement mechanisms to promote the fair usage of cyberspace. This fair use would be a significant deviation from a history of loosely defined principles. In pursuit of this fair use, the United States could join the Cyber Operations Resilience Alliance, and encourage legislation within the alliance that invests in democratic states’ cyber capabilities and administers clearly defined principles of digital freedom and the cyber domain.
 Economy, Elizabeth C. “China’s New Revolution.” Foreign Affairs. June 10, 2019. Accessed July 31, 2019. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-04-17/chinas-new-revolution.
 Chhabra, Tarun. “The China Challenge, Democracy, and U.S. Grand Strategy.” Democracy & Disorder, February 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-china-challenge-democracy-and-u-s-grand-strategy/.
 “The Overlooked Military Implications of the 5G Debate.” Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed August 01, 2019. https://www.cfr.org/blog/overlooked-military-implications-5g-debate.