Trump Wants to Wall Off Huawei, but the Digital World Bridles at Barriers



David E. Sanger | New York Times

President Trump has finally succeeded in building his wall: not the one he keeps demanding on the southwestern border, but a far more complex barrier meant to block China’s national telecommunications champion, Huawei, from operating in the United States and starve it of American technology as it builds networks around the globe.

After a flurry of new government edicts, Huawei, the world’s second-largest cellphone maker after it edged out Apple last year, will soon be entirely cut off from American-made technology. By the end of summer, new Huawei phones will come without Google apps. And American computer chip companies are cutting off supplies that Huawei depends on for building fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks.

But the fight is about far more than merely crippling one Chinese telecom giant. Mr. Trump and his aides want to force nations to make an agonizing choice: Which side of a new Berlin Wall do they want to live on?

Washington is portraying this in Cold War terms, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arguing that world leaders will have to choose between an internet that projects “Western values,” including the free, if chaotic, abuse-prone cyberspace Americans have, and one “based on the principles of an authoritarian, Communist regime.”

Yet it is hardly that simple. The jagged divide built across Berlin in the summer of 1961 was nearly impermeable; it stopped virtually all commerce and human contact between the East and West parts of the city — and became a symbol of how two adversary camps sought to isolate each other. But even if Mr. Trump is successful in isolating Huawei, billions of bits of data will flow through undersea fiber-optic lines — many of which its subsidiary Huawei Marine is laying — and through satellites connecting the two competing internet environments.

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