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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

DAVOS, Switzerland — The heavyweights of Western-style capitalism in Davos don’t yet know how to deal with China's authoritarian state capitalism.

The big picture: For much of the past 70 years, the behavior of Western companies has been shaped by Western laws and regulations, and by the vagaries of Western markets.

  • Now China is the first non-Western, authoritarian country with both the market size and the will to reshape the behavior of multinational companies, and even Western governments, to better fit its own interests.

Why it matters: “The fact that the Chinese are not in any way aligning with or integrating with Western-style capitalism is something that these CEOs are having a hard time coming to terms with,” said Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, in an interview at Davos with Bloomberg.

Case study: China telecom giant and 5G leader Huawei has received tens of billions of dollars in various forms of government assistance, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

  • This has helped it offer its products and services below market cost — and gives it an edge over competitors that top executives at Western companies are reluctant to acknowledge.
  • The U.S. government has urged allies not to use Huawei 5G because of security problems and the company's close ties to the Chinese government, even threatening to withhold intelligence sharing.
  • Despite the warnings, the British government looks set to allow Huawei into its telecommunications network, and Germany may follow.

What they’re saying: "[I]n some cases, the geopolitics are just slowing down 5G development as a whole, unfortunately,” Erik Ekudden, chief technology officer for Ericsson, a manufacturer of 5G equipment and Huawei competitor, said in an interview with Axios.

  • "It will be a huge expense for the world if people have to choose” between China and the U.S., Neeraj Aggarwal, the Asia-Pacific chair at Boston Consulting Group, told Axios.

The bottom line: Acting against the economic interests of companies is deeply unpopular among top Davos leaders.

  • Yet, with the rise of China’s authoritarian capitalism, that may be what is required to preserve the security of critical information infrastructure — and the fundamental freedoms of liberal democracy.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.

Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The first hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations begin on Tuesday, with testimony from his picks to lead the departments of State, Homeland and Defense.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for incoming presidents. The first slate of nominees will appear on Tuesday before a Republican-controlled Senate, but that will change once the new Democratic senators-elect from Georgia are sworn in.

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