US-China battle over Huawei comes to head at tech show

The Huawei logo is displayed at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on February 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2019
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US-China battle over Huawei comes to head at tech show

  • Trump’s administration says the Chinese government could use Huawei equipment to snoop on the world’s Internet traffic

BARCELONA: A global battle between the US government and Chinese tech company Huawei over allegations that it is a cybersecurity risk overshadowed the opening Monday of the world’s biggest mobile industry trade fair.
Huawei has an outsize presence at MWC Barcelona, from its displays in three separate show halls down to its red sponsorship logo adorning visitor pass lanyards. The focus at this year’s meeting is new 5G networks due to roll out in the coming years. But the dispute over Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of networking gear, is casting a pall.
The United States government dispatched a big delegation to press its case with telecom executives and government officials that they should not use Huawei as a supplier over national security concerns. US President Donald Trump’s administration says the Chinese government could use Huawei equipment to snoop on the world’s Internet traffic — accusations Huawei has rejected, saying there has been no proof of a cybersecurity breach.
In a fresh salvo, 11 US senators on Monday called for the federal government to ban solar power inverters — advanced control systems — made by Huawei, saying they pose a national security threat to US energy infrastructure.
Huawei’s counteroffensive includes making its case directly to government officials, companies and journalists. It has unveiled a new folding 5G phone and its executives are speaking on keynote panels at the show. Formerly known as Mobile World Congress, the show is a key forum for lobbying and deal-making that’s expected to draw 100,000 visitors.
“The geopolitical tensions between the USA. and China will undoubtedly be a hot topic,” said Shaun Collins, CEO of research firm CCS Insight. “There is little doubt that operators around the world are concerned that draconian sanctions on their ability to use Huawei’s 5G infrastructure could have detrimental effects on their 5G roll-out plans.”
Behind closed doors, US officials have been suggesting that Ericsson of Sweden and Finland’s Nokia should be preferred suppliers, but telecom providers like Huawei for its cheap but good quality equipment. That helps lower the cost to customers of using new 5G networks, which promise lightning fast download speeds and less signal lag — advancements that will help develop self-driving cars, factory robots and remote surgery.
At Huawei’s sprawling main pavilion, lit in shimmering LED lights, the company showed off virtual reality racing games that use 5G to provide crisper graphics and quicker response times than 4G.
“Definitely compared to other big global vendors, they’re cost efficient,” said Sharif Shah Jamal Raz, a vice president at Bangladesh mobile operator Robi Axiata, as he and his colleagues inspected Huawei’s display of network base stations and modular antennas.
Trump tweeted last week that he wanted the US to catch up in the 5G race through competition, “not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies.” Though he didn’t mention China or Huawei, the comments could be seen as a more toned-down approach to the company, which has long been blocked in the US
Guo Ping, one of three Huawei executives who take turns as chairman, told reporters Sunday that he read Trump’s tweet as an admission that the US needs faster Internet networks and is lagging in this respect.
Guo stressed that his company “will never allow for backdoors in our equipment,” and it would never violate laws and regulations in countries where it operates.
US allies in Europe are still making their minds up on allowing Huawei gear in 5G networks and it’s not clear if Washington’s lobbying campaign is having an effect, with some viewing it as a calculation of technical risks rather than as part of a broader battle for tech supremacy between China and the US
The CEO of Ericsson, Borje Ekholm, said countries face “critical decisions” as they roll out 5G networks.
“As we talk to our customers, they are feeling the uncertainty and they are concerned,” Ekholm said at the MWC show.
A ban on Huawei could delay the rollout of 5G in Europe by two years, said Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone, one of the world’s biggest mobile operators.  
The “implication is suddenly you’ve got to do a massive swap of equipment. Hugely disruptive to national infrastructure, consumers (and) very, very expensive,” he said.
The head of Britain’s government surveillance agency, Jeremy Fleming, said Monday that China’s tech dominance posed a complex strategic challenge.
“We have to understand the opportunities and threats from China’s technological offer,” Fleming said in a speech in Singapore, according to a transcript. “We have to take a clear view on the implications of China’s technological acquisition strategy in the West.”
The British government is carrying out a review of the risks involved with telecom infrastructure that will help it decide on Huawei’s role in 5G networks. UK cybersecurity officials have said previously they think the risks involved with Huawei can be managed.
GSMA, an association that represents 750 mobile operators worldwide, is recommending a testing and certification regime for Europe to ensure confidence in network security.
Guo called for the industry and governments to develop “clear and unified” cybersecurity standards and regulations, and said decisions should be made by technical experts rather than politicians.


Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

Updated 24 May 2019
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Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

  • Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors
  • After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers said they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies

NEW DELHI: Foreign companies in India have welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election victory for the political stability it brings, but now they need to see him soften a protectionist stance adopted in the past year.
Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors, with US firms such as Amazon.com , Walmart and Mastercard committing billions of dollars in investments and ramping up hiring.
India is also the biggest market by users for firms such as Facebook Inc, and its subsidiary, WhatsApp.
But from around 2017, critics say, the Hindu nationalist leader took a harder, protectionist line on sectors such as e-commerce and technology, crafting some policies that appeared to aim at whipping up patriotic fervor ahead of elections.

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“I hope he’s now back to wooing businesses,” said Prasanto Roy, a technology policy analyst based in New Delhi, who advises global tech firms.
“Global firms remain deeply concerned about the lack of policy stability or predictability, this has sent a worrying message to global investors.”
India stuck to its policies despite protests and aggressive lobbying by the United States government, US-India trade bodies and companies themselves.
Small hurdles
Modi was set to hold talks on Friday to form a new cabinet after election panel data showed his Bharatiya Janata Party had won 302 of the 542 seats at stake and was leading in one more, up from the 282 it won in 2014.
After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers told Reuters they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies.
Other investors hope the government will avoid sudden policy changes on investment and regulation that catch them off guard and prove very costly, urging instead industry-wide consultation that permits time to prepare.
Protectionism concerns “are small hurdles you have to go through,” however, said Prem Watsa, the chairman of Canadian diversified investment firm Fairfax Financial, which has investments of $5 billion in India.
“There will be more business-friendly policies and more private enterprise coming into India,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Tech, healthcare and beyond
Among the firms looking for more friendly steps are global payments companies that had benefited since 2016 from Modi’s push for electronic payments instead of cash.
Last year, however, firms such as Mastercard and Visa were asked to store more of their data in India, to allow “unfettered supervisory access,” a change that prompted WhatsApp to delay plans for a payments service.
Modi’s government has also drafted a law to clamp similar stringent data norms on the entire sector.
But abrupt changes to rules on foreign investment in e-commerce stoked alarm at firms such as Amazon, which saw India operations disrupted briefly in February, and Walmart, just months after it invested $16 billion in India’s Flipkart.
Policy changes also hurt foreign players in the $5-billion medical device industry, such as Abbott Laboratories, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, following 2017 price caps on products such as heart stents and knee implants.
Modi’s government said the move aimed to help poor patients and curb profiteering, but the US government and lobby groups said it harmed innovation, profits and investment plans.
“If foreign companies see their future in this country on a long-term basis...they will have to look at the interests of the people,” Ashwani MaHajjan, an official of a nationalist group that pushed for some of the measures, told Reuters.
That view was echoed this week by two policymakers who said government policies will focus on strengthening India’s own companies, while providing foreign players with adequate opportunities for growth.
Such comments worry foreign executives who fear Modi is not about to change his protectionist stance in a hurry, with one offical of a US tech firm saying, “I’d rather be more worried than be optimistic.”