Trump needs fodder for the campaign trail, maybe Huawei fits the bill

A thriving economy and low levels of unemployment might have been the focal point of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign pre-pandemic, but fighting the ‘red under the bed’ might have to do now.

In 2016, Donald Trump won the Presidential election for numerous reasons, but one very important element was his ability to mobilise the vote of elements of society who wouldn’t have had any interest in politics otherwise. One aspect was because of who Trump was and is, a celebrity more than a statesman, but perhaps a more critical element was the message.

Trump ignored political correctness, seemingly appealing to racism and xenophobia as the Make America Great Again slogan was born. He proposed the deportation of all illegal immigrants, the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border and a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the US. The forgotten men and women of the US were the focal point of this campaign.

This campaign, focusing on a single message of foreign people are bad for patriotic US citizens, worked. If Trump is to repeat the success of his 2016 Presidential Election in November, there will have to be another message at the core of the campaign to rouse the masses and build a slogan on.

There has been a suspicion that the success of the economy and low levels of unemployment would have been this focal point. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy was on the rise. From Trump’s entry to the Oval office on 6 January 2017, to the final days before lockdown in February, the Dow Jones grew from 19,963 to 29,398, a 47% surge. Unemployment was down to 3.5%, slowly eroding through the three-year period.

The message could have been ‘look what four years of Trump has gotten you, wouldn’t you like four more?’. But then coronavirus hit, and the economy went down the toilet.

The Dow Jones will recover, as will unemployment, but the Trump mission would be playing with fire by making this the central point of the campaign. Many believe Trump was too slow to act against the coronavirus after spending months claiming it was little more than the common flu. At its worst point, the Dow Jones fell to 18,591 while unemployment is currently as high as 14%, and likely to go higher.

Using the economy as a reason for re-elections is offering ammunition to the Democrat candidate, the opening round of a slug match where Trump can be undermined and embarrassed.

Without this weapon in his arsenal, Trump will have to find a new focal point to build a campaign around; China and Huawei could fit the bill.

Trump needs to redirect attention away from his failings as a leader during the pre-coronavirus weeks. People generally need an enemy when times are hard, and the invisible enemy of today will not do; you can’t get people angry about a virus, not in the way that the Trump campaign will want. If Trump can further vilify the Chinese, he can position himself as the hero, the man to champion US values, whatever they might be.

Huawei has been made the proxy of the Chinese Government in the eyes of the US. If the US is scared about the ‘red under the bed’, the idea of communism creeping into democratic societies secretly, the successful telecoms vendor can be made public enemy number one.

This is clearly not a new campaign of hate from the President, but it is one which had quietened off over the last few months. It is an on-going conflict point between the US and Chinese Governments, and fuel was thrown onto the embers last week.

In a new assault from the US Department of Commerce, further efforts were made to inhibit the ability of Huawei to source semiconductor components for smartphones and base stations. The US is perhaps hoping the globalised nature of the technology industry, which has allowed Huawei to thrive, can be weaponised against it as few (if any) companies could operate without a single trace of the US in its supply chain.

“We have survived and forged ahead despite all the odds,” Huawei Rotating Chairman Guo Ping said at a virtual conference this week. “The US insists on persistently attacking Huawei, but what will that achieve for the world?”

Conflict with the Chinese might not sound good for economic reasons, but for political ones, it is fantastic. Trump needs an enemy so he can be the champion of for the forgotten men and women of the US.

While it is clear there are a lot of US politicians buying into the anti-China campaign of hate, we asked readers how they feel about the on-going aggression towards Huawei: Poll: Do you feel the US Government is justified in its action against Huawei?
Yes, it is effectively a pawn for the Chinese Government 43%
Yes, but Government links are not there 1%
Maybe, but show us the evidence of foul play first 12%
No, Trump shouldn’t punish a company just because it is Chinese 22%
No, international competition should be left to sort itself out 22%

Huawei might have enjoyed a brief breather over the last few months, but the signs are there to suggest there might be greater conflict on the horizon. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper both drew battle lines.

“Let’s talk for a second about the other realm, cybersecurity,” Pompeo said during his speech. “Huawei and other state-back tech companies are trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”

“Under President Xi’s rule, the Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction,” said Esper. “More internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture.”

Further sanctions and more aggressive policies against Huawei specifically, as well as other Chinese companies in the international markets, could be on the horizon. Huawei executives have certainly expressed concern, but there are numerous other companies who should also be sitting uncomfortably.

The US Senate recently passed the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (S.945) which could result in numerous companies who do not pass strict criteria being delisted from US stock exchanges. China is of course a target with this legislation.

“The SEC works hard to protect American investors from being swindled by American companies,” said Senator John Kennedy, one of the politicians to introduce the original bill.

“It’s asinine that we’re giving Chinese companies the opportunity to exploit hardworking Americans – people who put their retirement and college savings in our exchanges – because we don’t insist on examining their books. There are plenty of markets all over the world open to cheaters, but America can’t afford to be one of them.”

This legislation would not impact Huawei, it is a private company after all, but it is further evidence of increasing aggression towards China, and suggestions there could be rising tensions.

And while Huawei might be attracting the most attention from US Senators right now, there are certainly more which could fall into the crosshairs. Tencent owns TikTok which has already come under criticism, Alibaba is hoping to expand its cloud computing venture into international markets, while the likes of OPPO and Xiaomi are proving to be quite successful in gaining interest as challenger smartphone brands. These are all companies which would perhaps fall foul of US opinion.

The first Trump campaign rallies will give more of an indication of what will be the focus of his scorn and hatred over the coming months, and where the pent-up frustrations of US citizens could be directed. We suspect Huawei could be in for a rough few months as Trump further vilifies the Chinese Government and looks for an opponent to bureaucratically challenge during the campaign.

Taking down Huawei could be the feather the Trump campaign is looking for in its quest for re-election to the White House. Daily Poll:

Should Huawei be allowed to operate in the UK?

  • No, the company is a pawn of the Chinese Government (34%, 152 Votes)
  • No, its security credentials fall below expectations (31%, 137 Votes)
  • Yes, the UK Government should allow the telecoms industry to make informed decisions (18%, 81 Votes)
  • Yes, there is no evidence of wrong-doing (9%, 39 Votes)
  • Yes, but the High Risk vendors limit should be lower (3%, 15 Votes)
  • No, Open RAN is a suitable replacement to ensure competition (3%, 13 Votes)
  • The Supply Chain Review should be reconsidered (2%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 445

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  1. Avatar Tom McGrath 22/05/2020 @ 2:18 pm

    I think politics should be kept out of trade publications.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 22/05/2020 @ 3:45 pm

      Do you?

  2. Avatar Jim S. 22/05/2020 @ 2:40 pm

    Agree with Tom McGarth, politics should not be part of this “magazine”. This is the second foray into politics from this writer that I recall. The first I considered click-bait; but this article’s title is clearly backed-up by the content. Further, it is obviously supported by since they supplied their own survey results.
    Please end this practice.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 22/05/2020 @ 4:01 pm

      I think we’ll do what we want, thanks Jim.

      • Avatar Jim S. 23/05/2020 @ 6:41 pm

        Your welcome.
        (not a bot)

  3. Avatar Jake 22/05/2020 @ 3:33 pm

    I think China, you know a country that harvest and sells the organs of people who dissent, should be excluded from ALL interactions with a free society like ours. Beyond that Tom is completely correct, you’re a bunch of goons for going political in a Trade Publication What a joke.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 22/05/2020 @ 4:04 pm

      That is grave criticism indeed, coming from someone of your clearly deep authority and insight, Jake. We will consequently do everything we can to become worthy of you and beg your indulgence in the meantime.

  4. Avatar Andy Tiller 22/05/2020 @ 4:57 pm

    I think you might be talking to bots here, Scott. Keep up the good work – this story is obviously of interest to telecoms professionals. Your survey results are interesting, and quite surprising to me – I read it as 57% understanding that this is a complex nuanced issue (I’d expect this to be higher from our industry, unless the bots were also invading your survey…)

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 22/05/2020 @ 5:05 pm

      How do I know you’re not a bot Andy? You mean political matters can sometimes affect business? Who knew?

      • Avatar Andy Tiller 22/05/2020 @ 7:25 pm

        That photo is just there to fool you. (Actually I do look a bit older these days, and I’m now sporting a Covid-19 haircut.)

  5. Avatar Dr David Wong 22/05/2020 @ 6:25 pm

    Many of my parents generation fled the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. My experience is that the CCP is a brutal and thuggish regime and Xi Jinping’s China is different to Hu Jintao’s 10 years ago. As Mainland Chinese growth has been slowing, he has been tightening his grip on the country and stepping up oppression more than ever. Huawei plays a major role in this through not only surveillance, but the social credit system.

    Many Chinese Americans support the current policy towards Huawei, yet cannot stand Trump. There are legitimate concerns here and it is an issue that can unite the right and the left. Being anti Huawei is not simply a matter of being anti China, it’s a matter of not standing for a telco company that is used as a tool of repression from a brutal dictatorship that is far from practicing the ideals of communism.

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