Trump’s 5G remarks ignore the internet’s spirit of openness, sharing and innovation

By Fang Xingdong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/16 21:43:41


Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

When delivering remarks on 5G deployment on Friday, US President Donald Trump said that "the race to 5G is a race that America must win." His speech sounded compelling and provocative and marked what is probably the first time since taking office that Trump has expressed his concern over the high-tech sector in such a high-profile manner. Of course, the remarks are still characterized by his habitual way of thinking: "According to some estimates, the wireless industry plans to invest $275 billion in 5G networks, creating 3 million American jobs quickly, and adding $500 billion to our economy." Despite the exciting investment, employment and economic data, it still reveals "America first" thinking as Trump said 5G networks must be "guarded from the enemy, and we do have enemies out there." 

His remarks pointed to some serious hidden dangers.

First, in facing 5G, which represents the innovation and upgrading of global information infrastructure, the US government shouldn't adopt geopolitical and competitive thinking but see the issue instead from a perspective of global common development. When the first computer-to-computer link was connected on ARPANET in 1969, the US government didn't consider it a competitive tool and geopolitical weapon, and this has enabled the internet's global reach today. Technological innovation is very important, but it is the attitude toward technology that makes final success happen.

Second, unlike 50 years ago, more than half of the world's population uses the internet today, with the industry and supply chains forming an interconnected global ecosystem. Highlighting "America first" with political power in the 5G field can only distort fair competition in the market and disrupt healthy and orderly development. 

Third, competition is essentially a matter of the market, and politics should keep a distance from it. Fifty years ago, when the internet was born, evolved, internationalized and commercialized, the US government was always a good bystander, which was critical in allowing humans to become truly connected. The US government should not ditch its past stance. However, the reality is that although 5G technology has yet to be improved and 5G users haven't entered the market, the US government is already eager to seize the spotlight. Politics have undoubtedly increased the complexity of market competition, adding difficulties to 5G development. Meanwhile, political intervention has also seriously damaged the image and soft power of the US.

While Trump made no mention of China, it is obvious that his "competition" and "enemies" refer to China. In the face of 5G competition, we need to maintain a rational and calm attitude while strengthening the strategic will. It is important that every country strives to be first in the race to 5G. After all, 5G is not a simple upgrade of 4G. It is a major breakthrough in information infrastructure, which is of vital importance to the industrial competitiveness, economic prosperity and social progress of a country. It is still too early to say that China has achieved an upper hand in the 5G competition. It must be clearly recognized that it is only for the first time that China has rejected a passive role in technological development.

In this 5G competition, China has many advantages that we didn't have in the past, such as the technical experience of Huawei and ZTE in equipment, more than 800 million internet users, and internet giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Yet, over the past year, China has fallen behind South Korea, the US and many other countries in terms of license issuance and market commercialization. To catch up with them, the government should prepare relevant strategies, policies and resources as soon as possible; network operators should increase investment; equipment manufacturers should highlight the advantages of China's cost-effective technology and products; and service providers should work out top-level applications and service innovation.

Trump once said in a tweet that he wants the US to become a technology leader through competition rather than by blocking out other more advanced technologies. Yet, the fact so far shows that the US government has abandoned its collaborative and open attitude from 50 years ago. If China wants to lead the second half of the global internet era, the most fundamental thing is not to emphasize "China first" but to inherit the internet's spirit of openness, sharing and innovation, abandoning Trump-style protectionism.

As Trump starts a 5G competition, China should try its best to be the leader. 

Nevertheless, in the spirit of the times, we don't have to make the same mistakes as Trump. The upcoming 5G era is the best opportunity to truly create a "cyberspace community of human destiny," and China is ready to embrace it.

The author is director of the Center for Internet and Society at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications.


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