Three of Japan's top mobile phone service operators have made the decision to postpone sales of the newest smartphone handsets from China's Huawei Technologies Co. This is a spillover effect of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration's heavy-handed strategy to ban Huawei from the American market.
Relatively cheap Huawei products are, as elsewhere, popular in Japan. Now the U.S.-China trade war has begun to have a real and direct impact on Japanese consumers. The confusion wrought by the trade war has spread, with even British companies beginning to postpone sales of Huawei products.
At the root of the tensions is competition for dominance between the U.S. and China in the high-tech sector, which has strong implications for national security.
China is a global leader in 5G next-generation communication technology, and Huawei has a central role in the Chinese government's goal of cultivating cutting-edge industry.
Washington has criticized Beijing's high-tech policy, which has been promoted through a public-private partnership with vast subsidies. And now the United States has prohibited companies from supplying smartphone parts and software to Huawei. The U.S. went from implementing punitive tariffs to zeroing in on what it was really after, likely because trade talks with China showed no signs of progress.
But the more a superpower ignores economic globalization to suppress an adversary, the more the international order becomes unstable.
Huawei has a global supply chain that, due to the U.S. government's latest exclusion measures, has been cut off from doing business with American companies. It is a loss for the U.S., which benefits greatly from IT-related sales. The trade war will also inevitably hit Japanese parts manufacturers. Further intensification of tensions between the U.S. and China is a cause for great concern.
The U.S. alleges that Huawei products have been used by the Chinese government for espionage. The Chinese government has denied the accusations, and has threatened retaliation.
China does have its share of problems. Under Chinese law, private companies are required to cooperate in providing the state with information. The U.S. government's distrust can be said to be rooted in Beijing's lack of transparency. But if Washington were to forcibly push the Chinese government to be more transparent, it would only serve to antagonize Beijing even further, possibly prolonging the dispute.
The Japanese government's handling of the situation is also being called into question. Since April, Tokyo has effectively eliminated all Huawei products from the telecommunications equipment it uses in a show of loyalty toward the U.S., and the priority it places on its alliance with the superpower.
But the Japanese government's decisions regarding Huawei also affect Japanese consumers and companies. And yet, members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet merely repeat the line, "We will keep a close eye on the impact." The Japanese government should not blindly follow the Trump administration, but rather make efforts to curb the effects of what it does on the lives of the Japanese public and the activities of Japanese companies.