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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The U.S. is having a "Huawei moment," as security concerns prompt the Trump administration to try to block allies from using 5G equipment produced by the Chinese company. But policymakers and experts also fear the U.S. is ill-prepared to challenge Chinese dominance in the next waves of technology — opening the U.S. to another round of national security worries.

Why it matters: Today, neither the United States nor its closest allies manufacture 5G telecom equipment to compete with Huawei for global business. The same dynamic will play out with 6G and other markets unless the U.S. takes long-term measures today to challenge China's manufacturing power and prepare for the next Huawei moment.

Background: Huawei is accused of:

  • Placing backdoors in equipment to allow China to spy on telecom networks, allowing it to steal billions in intellectual property to prop up domestic businesses.
  • Building its business on the back of stolen intellectual property.
  • Ignoring sanctions against Iran.

There's also some fear in the U.S. that China's domination of any tech market hurts U.S. interests.

Driving the news: On Monday, the U.S. repeated its threat to limit intelligence sharing with the U.K., its closest ally, if Britain moves ahead with plans for limited use of Huawei equipment in its 5G buildout.

Between the lines:

  • Chinese companies like Huawei operate in a national economy that deliberately blurs the lines between the state and major private enterprises. In the U.S., conservatives typically oppose measures they see as thumbing the scales of free and fair competition.
  • "Conservatives are worried that we'd harm fair competition in the market. But intellectual property theft makes it an unfair market," said Jamil Jaffer, former associate legal counsel for the George W. Bush White House. "Are we going to be able to compete if they use unfair practices? Of course not."

Jaffer believes that enforcing fair practices starts with penalizing China in trade negotiations for its theft of intellectual property.

  • While U.S. conservatives and many moderates typically oppose federal industrial policy as anti-capitalistic, Jaffer says an industrial policy motivated by national security concerns is really more of a national security policy.
  • "The core infrastructure on which our technology runs needs to be treated as national security infrastructure. We used to treat telephone wires that way — we treated the highway that way," he said.

The big picture: 6G isn't the only emerging technology with national security implications. Others include AI and quantum computing, and China is funding research in both those areas with the goal of dominating the market.

A pragmatic industrial policy would mean defending all those technologies, said Michael Daniel, CEO of the Cyber Threat Alliance and former cybersecurity coordinator for the Obama White House.

  • That might mean tax incentives or more subtle encouragement, like tailoring government procurement to favor allies. It would almost definitely mean investing in research.
  • It will also mean structuring government to better watch for technical trends. "We need an entity plugged in to emerging technologies and infrastructure risk," said Daniel.
  • While elements of government already partially do this, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the intelligence community, there's little connecting those predictions to policy.

The bottom line: It may be impossible to right the ship as quickly as we'd want.

  • "Just think of how long it took for the U.S. to not have a 5G manufacturer," said Daniel. I’ve read lines of argument that trace it back to the breakup of AT&T [in the 1980s]. The time scales can be very long."

Go deeper

Updated 23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

NRA declares bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will seek to reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment."

The big picture: The move comes just months after New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.