China has been showing its true colors in Hong Kong with the imposition of the new national security law on the former British colony. Approved last month, largely in secrecy with astonishing speed, and then almost immediately imposed on the city, the legislation provides Beijing nearly unlimited authority. The Chinese domination of Hong Kong, which until now was behind the scenes, burst into the open with the passage of this law and the crackdown on democracy protests in recent months.
Under the law, the Hong Kong police can censor content on the internet, search without warrants, surveil suspects without court orders, and shut down websites and take them offline. The Hong Kong police has power to crack down on protests, intervene with the Hong Kong legal system, and suppress the rights of free speech and expression of Hong Kong citizens. The law takes Hong Kong behind the great firewall of China.
In any other era, this law and this behavior would be cause for significant concern and outrage. But imagine combining this new sweeping authority with unparalleled application of technology to control what you see, what you do, and where you go, all under the guise of social credit. That is the future Hong Kong is facing. It could well be a future in the Western world where the data of citizens is used against them if the Chinese Communist Party and Huawei are successful in building the 5G network.
The only laws China respects are its own and not international laws or the privacy laws of other countries. This is reflected in how its companies do business. Huawei, for instance, is a company that hopes citizens will trust it with their data and its 5G network. Among other things, Huawei steals intellectual property, launders money, violates sanctions, and incentivizes trade secret theft. Indeed, if this were any other company from any other country, doing business with them would be unthinkable.
We need to ensure the Chinese Communist Party does not control the 5G network. Thankfully, the United States is taking steps to prevent this from occurring. The White House is finalizing regulations that would prevent the federal government from buying products from any company that uses Huawei or four other Chinese firms. The Federal Communications Commission has also designated Huawei and ZTE as national security threats, cutting them off from billions of dollars in subsidies.
Moreover, the United Kingdom has announced a halt on the installation of any Huawei equipment and will remove all equipment already installed by 2027. This is a great step forward, and this recent decision is undoubtedly motivated by the behavior of China toward the former British territory of Hong Kong. Other countries must see this decision as a signal as to how serious the national security threat posed by Huawei gear is.
China and Huawei will, however, not go quietly into the night. They are working to push back on the accurate perception that they are bad faith actors. In response to the legal arrest of Huawei financial executive Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities, China arrested two Canadian citizens, consultant Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is absolutely right in saying that in this case in Canada, China is “hostage taking” to pressure Ottawa on Huawei. The Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, warned London against “gross interference” in response to the British decision to open a pathway to citizenship for up to three million Hong Kong citizens who may flee the city in response to the national security law.
Ignorance of such behavior and conduct by China is no longer an excuse. Its imposition of near totalitarian restrictions on Hong Kong, along with its imprisonment of more than one million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps and its aggressive behavior across the South China Sea illustrates its intentions better than any Western analysis could. The aggressive use of data by China to restrict movement and speech is not something that should be imported anywhere, but that is precisely what Beijing hopes countries will do by buying and installing Huawei equipment.
We cannot allow Beijing to control our digital future, and that means the United States must push back on its attempts to dominate 5G. The federal government must continue to advance regulations that effectively limit access of Huawei and other Chinese companies to the American market. Around the world, we must continue to raise the awareness of the malign behavior, bad intentions, and illegal activities of Beijing. Anything less will cede us the future of China, and we cannot afford that scenario.
Mike Rogers, a former representative from Michigan in Congress, served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently chairman of the group 5G Action Now. You can follow him on Twitter @RepMikeRogers.