For several months the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, being a man who never shirked clashes, trying to decide how to behave against Washington with the Chinese technology giant “Huawei” (Huawei). In June, Putin met with the leader of China XI Jinping at the St. Petersburg international economic forum, and one of the main points of the program of their meeting was technology. Putin used the moment to accuse the US of trying “to unceremoniously push “Huawei” with the global market,” adding that “in some circles this is referred to as the first technological war of the coming of the digital age”.
Now let’s fast forward six months ahead. November began with the fact that Putin borrowed the dark page of the Chinese textbook on technology. The launch of the Web — in accordance with the Russian law on sovereign Internet actually creates a kind of a kill switch that will disable the Russian Internet from the global network. This decision of the Russian authorities was presented as a means of protection against cyber attacks from the US, but the real enemies are much closer. Most likely, these technologies will become a tool of censorship, tracking and surveillance.
Many fear that the Russian authorities intend to imitate the Chinese “Golden shield”, creating “cyber iron-curtain”. Digital sphere replicates the real world. The representative of the organization Human Rights Watch warned that Moscow could “directly to censor particular content or even to turn the Russian Internet in a closed system, which in turn will jeopardize the freedom of speech and freedom of information distribution network in Russia”. The requirement that providers of Internet services and telecommunications company has installed only government-approved equipment — this is an obvious loophole, which later will allow to monitor. This equipment, which allegedly established to ensure the protection and the possibility of disconnection may also perform other functions.
At the St. Petersburg international economic forum in June, Putin and XI have discussed the so-called “splinternet”, technological wedge that is driven between East and West, and at stake was a whole generation global standards for devices, networks and applications. It is not surprising that the main Chinese technological champion played in these negotiations is not the last role. After that meeting the company “Huawei” has secured a market share of 5G in Russia. As the media reported, in the course of those negotiations, a question was raised about the fact that the company “Huawei” might use the Russian operating system “Aurora” alternatively “Android”, although since then the talk about it died down, as enthusiasm for the possible joint production.
In late October I wrote that smartphones “Huawei” has received “incredible” share in the Chinese market — 42% — increased sales by 66%. According to the publication Nikkei Asian Review, citing a study conducted jointly by “M-Video” and “Eldorado”, the increasing sales of smartphones, “Huawei” in Russia almost as rapid, and now their market share is 37%. Although data on volumes of supplies to Russia are slightly different, one thing is clear: the share of production of “Huawei” in the Russian market is growing. According Counterpoint, in the last quarter of 2017, this Chinese giant was only 13% of the Russian market. A year later its market share has doubled.
As in China “Huawei” gaining weight on the Russian market, promoting its low-cost devices — in this case we are talking about Honor. And this is not the only investment of the company. The company “Huawei” training of Russian specialists in the framework of the process of establishing its infrastructure 5G. “Huawei,” invest their own funds to train Russian citizens how to use modern technology, and to provide them with the opportunity to participate in product development on a global scale,” said one expert from Moscow. The company plans to improve the skills of 10 of thousands of Russian specialists for 5 years.
But what about concerns over alleged links to “Huawei” with the official Beijing? According to this expert, “among Russian experts in the field of technology joke goes: if you use Apple, you listening Washington. If you use “Huawei”, listens to you Beijing. Which is better?” Earlier this year I asked this question to the head of the Department of information technology of Moscow Eduard Lysenko. “In the Russian Federation there are strict safety rules that we always adhere to”, — he said. As I wrote earlier, Russia and Washington have different views as to the threat to national security posed by the “Huawei” because of its alleged ties with Beijing.
If you do not go into detail, unlikely to surprise you that the company “Huawei” has benefited from the improvement of Russian-Chinese relations. In this issue there is the pragmatic aspect: the analogue of the “Huawei” Russia has no, but this country has a strong industrial base, to which the Chinese can access. In addition, Russia has a strong domestic market and has a large sphere of influence. From the standpoint of security, however, there are other considerations. Strengthening research ties with Russian institutions, “Huawei” gets another market that helps to neutralize the damage from the inclusion of this technological giant in the black list in other countries.
Ultimately in this case, the importance of two aspects — political and technical. The items that the company “Huawei” is building for himself in Russia, can be seen as an illustration of the relations between Russia and China, relations that include elements of cooperation in the field of defense and security. This leads us to the technical aspect. From the standpoint of cyber security, if Russia and China will cooperate, not attracting tech giants to provide a presence in 170 countries, it will result in negative consequences, which is quite obvious. Let’s also remember that Russia has achieved great success in the sense of offensive cyber capability, but when it comes to the mass surveillance of the population, nothing can match the car which is built China.
In relations between Moscow and Beijing there were periods of UPS and downs. In June, Putin and XI signed a joint Declaration, which confirmed that “Russian-Chinese relations have entered a new era and open to them new opportunities for future development.” As reported by the Chinese media, “the task of this new kind of partnership is that both sides have rendered each other more support, following their own development paths, respect the core interests of each other and defended the sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
From a technological point of view there is a risk that the current US influence on the global standards will start to decrease in the case of some more independent ecosystems. Think about business alliances that open new horizons in front of such Chinese giants like Tencent and Alibaba, not just “Huawei”. Think about the debate around splinternet and technological cold war. Think of the collaboration on elements of defense technology and artificial intelligence.
If the battle “Huawei” with Washington has indeed become “the first technological war of the coming of the digital age”, be sure that Putin will do everything possible to use the political consequences of these events and adjust everything so that it benefited the political objectives of Russia. Meanwhile, the company “Huawei” will enjoy sales growth, cooperation in scientific-production field and additional political support. All of this will make you think about all those people in USA who are engaged in the assessment of long-term consequences of such developments.
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