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Letter From Beijing: It’s A Good Time For India To Help China Overcome Some Of Its Global Challenges

Huawei Technologies has notched an 18% growth in revenue, topping $122 billion this year in the face of terrific resistance mounted against it by the Donald Trump government in the US. Seen in the light of this development, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s announcement to allow Huawei to conduct 5G trials in India seem to both wise and forward-looking.

The decision to treat China’s Huawei Technologies on par with other competitors in the race to grab India’s 5G market may have been influenced by diplomatic factors. India needs all the diplomatic goodwill it can garner at a time when recent decisions ranging from the withdrawal of Article 370 regarding Jammu and Kashmir and the induction of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been questioned by some countries. Besides, both India and China are keen to preserve and take forward the relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping, who held one-to-one talks without aides in Wuhan and Chennai in the past two years.

It’s a good time to tell Beijing that New Delhi would do what it can to help China overcome some of its international challenges. The decision on Huawei was taken in this context. The decision will add credibility to Huawei’s claims about fair play, and its repeated rejection of accusations that the company’s equipment can be used by Chinese authorities for espionage.

Few in South Block believe that China will soften its approach to issues like Kashmir that involve its ‘all-weather strategic partner’, Pakistan. But there are other areas where the two Himalayan giants could do with harmony. They include international trade, environment issues and the newly renewed efforts to settle the land boundary across Sikkim.

Both countries have agreed to work in one simple direction: to make sure that their existing differences do not become a stumbling block in the development of a future relationship in areas including trade and investments. The decision on Huawei is meant to grease this effort.

Huawei has already come out with a celebratory statement welcoming Prasad’s statement. “We thank the Indian government for their continued faith in Huawei,” Jay Chen, the company’s India CEO said in a statement. Taken at face value, the decision involves ignoring previous plans for security audit of Huawei’s technology.

There are some in the Indian government who think there is no need to worry overmuch on this issue, because no country has found conclusive proof about Huawei’s technologies being used for espionage. Besides, Chinese companies are already present in significant numbers — TikTok, PayTM (Ali Baba is its largest shareholder), Flikart, etc – in India. These are a reservoir of consumer data, opening up infinite possibilities for information gathering.

But Huawei’s international troubles are far from over, and New Delhi is expected to keep a keen eye on the evolving situation. GoI can also tweak its own decision, as it has done with many others, and bring about a security audit covering all 5G bidders, including Ericsson and Huawei. A security audit can always be brought in to the picture if Huawei stands by its claim about fair play.

Indian commentators have been saying for months that Huawei desperately needs the local market at a time when it is facing a ban in the US, and resistance in several European markets, besides Australia and Canada. But the latest numbers show that the Chinese giant has not been hit as severely as its critics had expected. Western resistance could impact its future innovation plans, including it program for developing 6G. But it is fairly comfortable in the present level of business.

Huawei’s rotating chairman Eric Xu has complained about the ‘strategic and long-term’ campaign against its business by the US government. The campaign may make it even more ‘difficult’ for the company to ‘survive and thrive’, he said. Many seen the campaign as Washington’s way to hit at the Chinese government, in the belief that Huawei and Beijing are aligned with each other and Huawei’s technological growth would feed into Chinese military capabilities, as future wars will be determined by digital speed.

But the question is whether the US government is really hurting Huawei as much as it expected when Washington told its allies to not use the company’s products while alleging that it poses a threat to national security. Washington’s urgings have had little impact, going by Huawei’s order book that is getting telecom contracts across Asia and Europe, including Britain.

In this 5G area, competitors like Huawei, Samsung and Ericsson need to collaborate, along with scientific institutions on a continuous basis. This leaves little room for politicians and governments to play favourites and get one to fight another.

Therefore, India should focus on taking advantage of the innovation produced by a wide range of companies, regardless of their nationalities, as long as they do not pose a security threat. More importantly, GoI should make sure that Indian companies and research institutions take advantage of the infusion of new technologies, instead of allowing foreign firms to act as fully guarded fortresses of innovation within India.―Newsfeed

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