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Tech war could split internet

By Lachlan Maddock
3 minute read

It’s “my way or the Huawei” as the US escalates its skirmish with the Chinese telecom in a move that could see the creation of a global “splinternet”.

Earlier this month, Huawei was the subject of a broadside of charges by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in which the telecom was accused of racketeering, stealing state secrets, and aiding rogue nations – including Iran and North Korea – in their domestic spying efforts. 

That’s led the US to clamp down even further on Huawei, threatening to end information and intelligence sharing with countries that allow the company access to its telecommunication systems. Speaking to press in Germany, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said that use of the telecom could disrupt information sharing between countries. 

“The concern still remains that if countries choose to go the Huawei route, it could well jeopardise all the information sharing and intelligence sharing that we’ve been talking about,” Mr Esper said. 


“And that would undermine the alliance, or at least our relationship, with that country.”

The US’ refusal to allow Huawei to be involved in Western telecommunications means that the world could soon see a “splinternet” – a paradigm where cyberspace is controlled and regulated by different entities. 

“The fear has grown that the global internet will break down into three or more separate ecosystems,” John Chipman, the director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the WEF in January. 

“The continuation of a single internet would see all countries, including China, having a vested interest in the continuation of the global economy it supports. A bifurcation of the internet – sometimes called a “splinternet” – could see two competing models.”

That could see the creation of separate supply chains and separate information and communication technologies, built to different standards, with each looking to win business from each other. The developing world – which prioritises internal security – could also find the developing world favouring the Chinese model. 

“Clearly, the banning of Chinese tech in the US and allied networks heightens the risk of a splinternet,” Mr Chipman said. 

And with a federal judge now dismissing a lawsuit from Huawei challenging the US decision to bar the government and its contractors from using Huawei equipment, it seems the tech war is only escalating.