Michael Kratsios, chief technology officer of the US and a key advisor to President Donald Trump, has doubled down on calls for Western governments to block Chinese technology in a vitriol-laden speech in Lisbon, Portugal.
In a speech at Web Summit yesterday, Kratsios echoed Trump’s anti-Chinese narrative, arguing that allowing Chinese companies to play a role in the development of emerging technological infrastructure such as 5G and AI would erode the freedom of citizens.
“If we don’t act now, Chinese influence and control of technology will not only undermine the freedoms of their own citizens, but all citizens of the world,” he said.
He likened the current situation to the decision to allow China to join the World Trade Organization, a decision he characterised as causing significant damage to US companies.
“Countries continue to consider opening their arms to Chinese companies in order to build critical infrastructure, like 5G and develop key technologies like artificial intelligence. If we allow Beijing such a profound degree of access and influence in our technology system, we run the risk of repeating the same mistakes our nations made nearly 20 years ago,” Kratsios said.
“In 2001, our leaders let China into the World Trade Organization, expecting that as we opened our economies to them, the country would liberalise politically and economically. Instead, China stole our intellectual property, they forced companies to hand over valuable technology in order to access their market and now they require access to all data information and secrets contained on any server in China.”
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US CTO takes aim at Huawei
As is often the case with Trump-led US criticism of China, Kratsios took particular aim at Chinese technology giant Huawei, arguing that the company was the ‘clearest’ example of China “extending authoritarianism abroad”.
“Chinese law compels all Chinese companies, including Huawei, to cooperate with its Intelligence and security services, no matter where the company operates,” he said.
“And perhaps the most disturbing account of espionage, news outlets have reported after Huawei installed communications technology equipment at the headquarters of the African Union, their computer system was hacked, and data was transferred to servers in Shanghai every single night for five years.”
Huawei has repeatedly denied such allegations, arguing that there is no evidence that the company has ever been involved in or enabled espionage. A spokesman for the company responded to Kratsios’ allegations:
“We utterly reject the false claims against Huawei by Michael Kratsios, the Chief Technology Officer to US President Donald Trump, today at the Web Summit in Lisbon. Singling out Huawei, Mr Kratsios repeated a number of allegations that were hypocritical and manifestly false,” the spokesman said.
“Huawei is a 100% private company exclusively owned by its employees. Huawei did not control data at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The solutions provided to the AU were controlled, managed and operated by the organization’s IT staff and Huawei had no access to AU data. Leaders of the AU rejected claims that Huawei was involved in any cyber security breach. Furthermore similar false claims were rejected in a recent court action in Lithuania, where the court described them as ‘unsubstantiated allegations’.
“Cybersecurity and privacy protection are and will remain Huawei’s top priorities. In its 32 year history there has been not one single case of Huawei equipment being involved in a serious cybersecurity breach. In contrast to what Mr Kratsios says, what the US current administration is doing is an insult to European core values, and will result in slowing down Europe in its ambition to become a global hub of innovation.”
The Trump administration has made considerable efforts to get Western countries to ban Chinese technology, and in particular Huawei, from its 5G infrastructure, with a focus on those in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing community. However, it has achieved only limited success. The UK has so far resisted such a ban, although is considering restricted Huawei to “non-core” 5G infrastructure, while Germany has announced that it will not enact a preemptive ban.
Trump tech chief argues supporting Chinese technology enables censorship
Kratsios made considerable efforts to associate Chinese technology with authoritarianism, with a message that using technologies from the country enabled human rights abuses.
“For the good of mankind, we must defend ourselves against an increasingly aggressive government that is undermining our values and subverting the free and fair system that allows all of us to succeed,” he said.
“The Chinese government has built an advanced authoritarian state by twisting technology to put censorship over free expression and citizen control over empowerment. Through their massive system of censorship, the Great Firewall, the Chinese government violates the privacy of every person their country by monitoring online communications and blocking access to information.
“The Chinese Communist Party uses technology to control and imprison dissidents, activists and minorities including the Muslim Uyghurs. They degrade the individual dignity of Chinese citizens by implementing a dystopian credit score.”
He characterised the slew of bans the US has implemented on Chinese technology – often seen as a key part of Trump’s ongoing trade war with China – as standing up for freedom against such human rights abuses.
“Earlier this year, our President signed an executive order providing new authorities to ban, within the United States, the sale of unsecured communications technologies. Our President also signed legislation expanding our authority to restrict foreign investment in US businesses that compromises our critical technology,” he said.
“We commend those nations that have begun to protect their own strategic industries from foreign takeover. And we are standing up for human dignity by restricting Chinese entities that have committed human rights abuses from purchasing American products and by banning the sale of high-tech equipment to known human rights abusers.”
Read more: How do you solve a problem like Huawei?