The Yangshan Deep-Water Port in Hangzhou Bay south of Shanghai, China. Donald Trump is juggling multiple trade conflicts, with allies and rivals alike. Image Credit: NYT

Washington: President Donald Trump has finally succeeded in building his wall: not the one he keeps demanding on the southwestern border, but a far more complex barrier meant to block China’s national telecommunications champion, Huawei, from operating in the United States and starve it of US technology as it builds networks around the globe.

After a flurry of new government edicts, Huawei, the world’s second-largest cellphone-maker after it edged out Apple in 2018, will soon be entirely cut off from US-made technology. By the end of summer, new Huawei phones will come without Google apps. And US computer chip companies are cutting off supplies that Huawei depends on for building fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks.

The new Berlin Wall

But the fight is about far more than merely crippling one Chinese telecom giant. Trump and his aides want to force nations to make an agonising choice: Which side of a new Berlin Wall do they want to live on?

Washington is portraying this in Cold War terms, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arguing that world leaders will have to choose between an internet that projects “Western values,” including the free, if chaotic, abuse-prone cyberspace Americans have, and one “based on the principles of an authoritarian, communist regime.”

But even if Trump is successful in isolating Huawei, billions of bits of data will flow through undersea fiber-optic lines — many of which its subsidiary Huawei Marine is laying — and through satellites connecting the two competing internet environments.

US intelligence officials and telecom executives and experts have conceded that the United States will be operating in a world where Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies most likely control 40-60 per cent of the networks over which businesses, diplomats, spies and citizens do business.

So far, despite threats from the United States that allies that side with Huawei and China will be cut off from US intelligence, many are trying desperately to straddle the wall.

Among the United States’ closest allies, only Australia has banned Huawei from building its new networks; Japan has effectively done the same. Britain and Germany, two of the most powerful members of NATO, are hedging. Their politicians fear the job losses that would result as well as Chinese retaliation, and they believe there are elements of the network that Huawei could build without endangering national security.