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Google has pulled Huawei’s Android license

As Google removes Huawei’s Android license, tensions between China and the US increase.

On 15th May President Trump signed an order giving the federal government power to block US companies from buying foreign-made telecommunications equipment. The order aims to clamp down on the ‘unrestricted acquisition or use’ by US technology companies of equipment made by ‘foreign adversaries.’

The policy is implicitly aimed at Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei though no company is explicitly named. Additionally, the Commerce Department has also said it was adding Huawei to its ‘Entity List,’ which stops it from buying components from US companies without government approval.

All of this jargon means that US tech manufacturers essentially cannot use Huawei’s equipment without special permission from the government, and neither can Huawei use equipment from the US. As some of the world’s largest software comanies, including Google, Intel and Qualcomm, currently trade software, hardware and licences for intellectual property with Huawei, this is clearly quite a big deal.

The first company to take a step towards eradicating Huawei from their production line in compliance with US regulations is Google, who’ve suspended Huawei’s Android license indefinitely as of this week. Now, following Google’s announcement, existing Huawei phones that run Android will no longer be able to receive updates. This double-whammy for Chinese tech has rendered the future of Huawei phones in America uncertain.

Google has restricted Huawei to use of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), cutting the company off from critical Google apps and services that consumers outside of China expect from an Android device. This means that Huawei will only be able to offer security updates to customers once they’re made available in AOSP.

All this comes down to the US administration’s fear that the Chinese government, as a huge economic rival, might force companies like Huawei to install backdoors into their equipment in order to spy on American networks. This would clearly be a huge breach of security.

These events come as no surprise when you consider recent US/ Chinese relations, of which the Huawei hysteria is both a cause and symptom. As Trump’s government continues to slap tariffs on imported Chinese goods, and vice versa, the tensions between the two technological super giants are showing no signs of slowing down.

The main ‘issue’ the US has with Chinese trading policies can be summarised in two words: intellection property. Each year, the US loses around $600 billion USD to counterfeit goods and pirated software leeching from US companies, and theft of trade secrets. Investigating these costs to the US economy was one of the platforms Trump ran for presidency on, and he’s making good on these promises by essentially crippling US/ China trade routes.

Now, the US’s concern that China may be pouring money into the Huawei 5G networks could be a sign that the company has designs on a touch of illegal surveillance and corporate espionage.

Whilst it’s fair to say that Trump himself has made his grudge against China and its president Xi Jinping personal, previously tweeting in 2012 that ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive’, major US intelligence agencies have legitimized the claims about Huawei by expressing their own concerns. The FBI, the CIA, and the NSA have all told US citizens not to use Huawei phones.

The US has also pressured allies, particularly the UK, to avoid using Huawei software to set up their 5G networks. This advice has been largely ignored, with the UK going ahead with the Chinese company’s technology, citing that their manufacturing processes will cut costs for the British market.

Huawei has claimed throughout the ordeal that it is not possible for the government to poison its equipment with backdoors, and remains optimistic about the future of their business. But this new announcement from Google will surely have grave consequences for the company’s core business model. Huawei was already in the processes of creating its own operating system in the event of having their Android or Windows licences revoked, however it’s likely that a homegrown system would face even more scrutiny from the west than derivatives.

Regardless of Huawei’s US sales, they’ll still make a tidy profit – they currently sell the second most phones worldwide of any copmany. However, the disagreements over this intellectual property is worth watching closely as a microcosmic example of whether the two biggest trading nations in the world, with the biggest arsenals of nuclear weapons respectively, will be able to play nice some time in the future. Fingers crossed.