Taking control of 5G through “what seemed to be commercial companies like Huawei and ZTE” is a long-term Chinese strategy to assert its hegemony over Asia, former American National Security Advisor John Bolton said. To combat China’s global dominance, the rest of the world would have to “think strategically in response”, he said in an interview with CNN-News18. India may want to look at participating in global consultations about that, as it already has in a trilateral consultation with Japan and the US, Bolton said.

Bolton further said that China has not behaved responsibly in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and continues to steal intellectual property. He is not the only American to accuse China of intellectual property theft. Earlier, White House adviser Peter Navarro had said that TikTok and other apps developed by Chinese-owned companies are obligated to share information with the Communist Party of China and “agencies which want to steal our intellectual property”.

This is not the first time that Bolton has raised doubts about Huawei and ZTE’s links with the Chinese government. In an excerpt from his book The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, he had written, “The most important goal for Chinese ‘companies’ like Huawei and ZTE is to infiltrate telecommunications and information-technology systems, notably 5G, and subject them to Chinese control”. And he also wrote that US President Donald Trump reversed penalties imposed on ZTE by the US Commerce Department, and offered to reverse criminal prosecution against Huawei to improve his chances of getting re-elected through Chinese intervention.

Bolton is currently on a virtual publicity tour of his book that has included him unironically dispensing advice about diplomacy on the US-China relationship, safeguarding elections to Israel, commenting on Trump’s ineptitude, and his own voting preferences.

Huawei has had a rough few years

Bolton is not the only American to be wary of Huawei and ZTE. On June 30, the Federal Communications Commission of the US had designated Huawei and ZTE as national security threats.

And USA is not the only country to treat Huawei with suspicion. On July 14, the UK announced that telecom equipment from Huawei will be phased out of the country’s 5G infrastructure by 2027. The European Union, on the other hand, had told its member states that they could use 5G equipment from high-risk vendors such as Huawei but there would need to be strict regulations in place to counter any potential national security threat.

Although India had approved Huawei and ZTE’s participation in 5G trials, after the Indo-China border clashes in June and the subsequent Indian ban on 59 Chinese apps, the Indian government is also reportedly considering bans on the two telcos. BSNL has also cancelled a 4G supply tender so that it can be reworked to make Chinese vendors ineligible.

One Indian company has sought to capitalise on this — Reliance Jio. On July 15, at the company’s annual general meeting, Reliance chairperson and managing director Mukesh Ambani had announced that Jio is now ready to deploy 5G network trials in India as soon as spectrum is available and that the 5G technology was built “from scratch” by Reliance employees. Playing on the same fear earlier, during US President Donald Trump’s visit to India in February 2020, Ambani had proclaimed before him that Jio is the only network in the world that doesn’t have a single Chinese component in its network.