the two internets

Carmela Gross, ENTRE WORDS series, Jaci, 2012, graphite and enamel on dictionary sheet, 27,5 x 20,8 cm
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By FRANCISCO LOUÇA*

Trump's offensive against China, with Huawei, TikTok and WeChat as immediate targets, is the cold war of our time

the power to send

The White House order to ban the supply of semiconductors starting this month is a powerful blow to Huawei. The Chinese company, which dominates 5G, depends on buying chips and may not have access to suppliers. The effect is worldwide: a Taiwanese company, MediaTek, asked the US authorities for authorization to continue selling to it, but the Department of Commerce, which conducts the operation under instructions from the president, must refuse the license. Even the main Chinese supplier, SMIC, may have to close its deals with Huawei, as it relies on equipment imported from the US and cannot risk running out of that capability.

Several Trump allies, such as Boris Johnson or the Australian government, had already obeyed the order to annul the contracts with Huawei. Portugal is in a curious position, given that it is under pressure from the White House to refuse Huawei because it is a company with links to the Chinese government, but Passos Coelho sold the energy companies to the very official capital of Beijing. In any case, Huawei, given its effective advantage in 5G, increases its market share, so Washington decided to attack its supply chain. This bombardment is already effective, given that the North American industry still dominates some segments of sophisticated machines and has a scientific advantage in semiconductors. But it has a consequence: China will seek to advance quickly in the production of such equipment and in research into chips or operating systems. And it can catch up in a few years. Thus, Chinese companies can become self-sufficient in cutting-edge technology.

The revenge

It is because he knows that the conflict has no solution in the war against Huawei and that it is a dispute for the global market, that Trump, who still controls the financial circuits and some high technology, also attacks the networks of diffusion and user loyalty . That's why he targeted TikTok, with XNUMX million users in the US, and WeChat, two of the Chinese companies that best penetrate the US market.

The argument of suspicion is scarce. In fact, there has been far more evidence of abuse of dominance and disrespect for users' rights by Facebook and Twitter than by TikTok, which only hangs an allegation about the nationality of the company that owns it and revenge for the clamorous failure to an election rally for the US president. But, as far as is known, Cambridge Analytica was based on data provided by Facebook and not by the Chinese company. In any case, we have here yet another process of dividing the world into two internets: in China, Facebook and Google are barred and, if Trump imposes himself, Chinese companies will be barred in the West.

And then there are the games

Production technology and access systems are thus the first two fronts in this battle. And there is a third, games. The Chinese Tencent, owner of WeChat and which already has an operating margin greater than Facebook, is betting on streaming games, merging the Huya and DouYu platforms. It would have 300 million users in China, in addition to dominant positions in other markets: when Tencent bought the North American RiotGames, it acquired League of Legends, whose championship final was watched online by 44 million people, twice as many as watched the baseball game. In this domain, it is still the fight between companies that predominates, Apple and Google against Epic Games, which produces Fortnite, or all American companies against Tencent, but soon it will be between governments.

The two internets fight for attention and data, the most powerful weapons of our time. The war has already begun.

*Francisco Louçã he was coordinator of the Left Bloc (2005-2012, Portugal). Author, among other books, of The Curse of Midas – The Culture of Late Capitalism (Lark).

Originally published in the weekly Espresso.

 

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