High-Tech McCarthyism

One of the novels in Philip Roth’s “American Trilogy” is titled “I Married a Communist.” Roth, a master of contemporary literature who passed away in May of last year, illustrates the course of the main character’s downfall through a madness of love, betrayal and revenge after being outed as a communist and facing trial by the people. The book is set during the Cold War, when the winds of McCarthyism battered post-World War II America.

McCarthyism was an anti-communist movement that swept the United States from 1950 to 1954. The movement was named for Joseph R. McCarthy, a Republican senator who led the hunt for communists. During this postwar period, conservatives vied for influence. They went on witch hunts against their opponents, denouncing them as communists. Many social, political and artistic leaders of the time were labeled as communists and endured much suffering. With McCarthy’s fall, though, McCarthyism disappeared.

This once-gone McCarthyism has returned — to China. On Jan. 18, the Global Times, China’s official media outlet, criticized the United States’ Huawei boycott as “high-tech McCarthyism,” insisting that “the US is treating Huawei like a geopolitical battle enemy. But the company is dedicated to technology and commerce. Washington has jeopardized such companies’ rights to keep out of politics by forcibly attaching political labels to Huawei.”

Huawei is the largest manufacturer of telecommunication equipment in the world, taking the lead in establishing 5G mobile communication networks. The sentiment of the West toward this company is less than favorable. Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei is a former People’s Liberation Army officer. Many believe Huawei’s growth to have been supported by the Chinese government.

The United States believes Huawei to be an information collection device for the Chinese Communist Party. It also has its suspicions that Huawei equipment is made with a “backdoor” to allow it to be bugged and to leak information. The United States worries that Huawei products could be used by Chinese cyberspies. This past July, Five Eyes, the joint intelligence alliance among the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, issued a statement about the necessity of containing Huawei. Germany and the United Kingdom have also been wary of the introduction of Huawei devices. As a result, a Huawei employee in Poland was arrested on suspicion of spying on Jan. 13.

The race among individual countries for leadership in 5G network commercialization is intense. Huawei’s ambitions to become the standard for 5G is just another form of the “Chinese dream.” Is the “high-tech McCarthyism” emerging in this new cold war between China and the U.S. just a Western witch hunt like the Chinese insist? Or is it a valid suspicion about Chinese spying and technological theft?

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