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    OpinionsThe West cuts a sorry figure on the great Chinese Scrabble Board

    The West cuts a sorry figure on the great Chinese Scrabble Board


    USA and Europe find the Chinese are not a chip of the old block

    By Anjan Roy

    The United Kingdom is facing a dilemma. It is not able to issue, for the time being, the regimental badges for its military service personnel bearing the imprimatur of King Charles. The reason: Chinese supplies. The UK issues the badges worn on berets, with their sovereign's imprint on them, indicating the regiments they belong to. The officers are given embroidered cloth badges and ranks are given metal badges. These are supplied by a native British firm.


    However, the British firm buys components from a Chinese firm. The suspicion is the Chinese can implant tiny, undetected chips in the badge as components which would then be able to detect their location, opening the possibility for a serious security breach.


    The alternative is new suppliers have to be nurtured and developed within the country. But that will take time and the new sovereign's imprint would in turn take time to appear on these badges. London's Financial Times, has reported on this imbroglio in its weekend edition. This might be a small coin of a problem for the UK. But this is symptomatic of the mental state of Europe and the entire western bloc over China. They are suspicious about China and its intentions as the country acquires greater heft both economically and consequently in its defence capabilities.


    There has been a running battle between China and the United States over the operations of a major Chinese company, Huawei, a telecom equipment giant which is threatening the technological superiority and stranglehold of leading American and European telecom giants.


    It all began when Huawei's supplies of telecom components for the 4G and 5G networks were detected to have spying capabilities. These telecom equipment were thought to be enabled to allow Huawei and Chinese state's intelligence arms to snoop on rivals and other countries.


    Major western countries thereafter imposed bans on use of Huawei-supplied components. This was a major setback for the western telecom networks. Huawei had made major strides in 5G and the western networks were keen to deploy these products to achieve their 5G objectives. Additionally, these products were much cheaper than those supplied by western companies. Adopting these western products and hardware meant that technology was at times of an older generation and then these were costlier.


    Notwithstanding these objections, the entire western had shifted from Huawei technology and components fairly fast. This affected Huawei commercially and its operations were virtually strangulated. China remonstrated. America also banned exports of sensitive items like chips to Huawei and the entire spectrum of Chinese technology companies. Denial of the most advanced chips meant severe setbacks for the company and China.


    President Xi Jinping had denounced the American moves to deny such advanced technology to China and to Chinese companies as a violation of the principles of free trade. American sanctions against the Chinese have been rather heavy handed. All western companies handling sensitive technologies, including what is commonly referred to as dual use capable technology, were strictly instructed not to send any of their advanced products to China.


    China responded with the entire Chinese state backing its companies to develop the latest technologies on their own. However, this is not easy. The basic blocks of any technology development are the latest leading edge industrial chips, used in everything, from a computer to ordinary equipment. Denial of these could forestall all activities.


    But chip development is not only a question of money and outlays, it is also a question of developing capabilities in the underlying basic sciences. China has, therefore, adopted a strategy of developing science and scientific capabilities and has earmarked huge funds for these science based activities and learnings.


    The Chinese had started well in advance and now they look like they're in a winning position. Many of the Chinese learning institutions, bodies and universities are global class sources of new research and findings in fundamental sciences. And, as if there is no dearth of issues, the latest flashpoint is over electric vehicles.


    Europe is scared to death of the prospect of huge invasion of Chinese electric vehicles into the European market. Taking the cue from Tesla, the Chinese had concentrated on developing its own capabilities in this green technology. With lightning speed, Chinese companies have emerged as leading edge producers of EVs. And because of the early start as well as massive state funding of the electric vehicles companies, their prices are rock bottom. The Europeans have found that it is impossible to fight the Chinese EV in the open market. European Union authorities and the trade commissioner have imposed stiff import tariffs on Chinese EVs.


    But even with the high tariffs, Chinese vehicles are still competitive. Therefore, some more measures are needed if the European car markets are to be protected from Chinese incursions. Where the Chinese have clearly gained over their European rivals, or for that matter any competition, is their ability to produce high quality and cheap car batteries.


    Car batteries are the most important determinant of the viability of any electric vehicle project. And the Chinese are the undisputed kings. The Chinese also have a virtual monopoly over supplies of critical inputs, like rare earths, which are the essential ingredients of any battery project. They have large indigenous supplies as well as mining rights in some other countries.


    The West is now ruing its earlier strategy to wean over China from its Communist ways and replace it with what is commonly termed as “Liberal western democratic system”. The West, principally led by the United States, had gone overboard to accommodate the Chinese into the global economic system.


    The Americans had campaigned and literally held China's hand and inducted them into the global trading system. From day one, China took full advantage of the situation and went on pursuing its goal of China specific development and gaining economic might. Along with that. China developed its military capabilities, bluffing all the way and transgressing every norm. Now that China has gained its muscles, it is launching a full scale war on the so-called America led “global order.” It is using Russia as a pawn in this struggle. A full scale confrontation could be imminent. If that happens, India stands to gain as a bystander. (IPA Service)


    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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