US ban on Chinese spy cameras will backfire

US regulators are strengthening their stance on Chinese makers of spy cameras and other hardware.

US regulators are strengthening their stance on Chinese makers of spy cameras and other hardware. However, by turning to an old playbook, Washington distracts attention from the future and diminishes America’s ability to remain a global technology leader.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed a ban on the use of certain telecommunications products and other electronics made by Chinese companies, including one of the world’s largest surveillance camera manufacturers, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., and Dahua Technology Co. cites alleged national security risks, also seeks to ban future sales in the US and could revoke previous authorizations for the equipment. Hikvision said it “strongly opposes” the FCC’s move, while Dahua called it “unwarranted.”

Attempts to rid the US of existing equipment and electronic cameras — on street corners, school yards and local government facilities — will be more disruptive than proactive. For starters, there aren’t many better alternatives, and looking for new products or phasing out old ones will be a lengthy process that wouldn’t necessarily undo any perceived damage to privacy or security – if any. In some cases, such technology is seen as an advantage. In 2018, the Memphis Police Department, which had bought hundreds of Hikvision cameras in the previous decade, said the devices helped him make up to 100 arrests a year, according to a Wall Street Journal report at the time.

In recent years, several US government agencies have tried to shut out Chinese companies through similar restrictions. Instead of waiting for narrow paths of overseas revenue to open up, these companies just moved on. Now they are advancing in other fields, such as robotics, intelligent vehicle systems and detector technologies, and are widely implementing their so-called multidimensional sensing technologies, which would enhance artificial intelligence capabilities for industrial and other uses.

Hikvision has found support domestically and has stepped up its research and development efforts. In its latest annual report, it noted that R&D spending was 6.38 billion yuan (about $1 billion), or 10.04% of total operating income, while spending grew 16%. The company also noted that it had more than 20,000 employees dedicated to this field and other technical services. Innovative companies’ operating income grew nearly 40% last year, compared to about 8% for older technologies and equipment.

Meanwhile, Huawei Technologies Co. its dominant position and expanding in other parts of the world, such as Africa. It has made cloud services a strategic priority and last year, amid the pandemic, its revenue grew 168%.

At this point, it’s pointless to spend time, money, and effort trying to unravel the past, or any concerns it may bring. While the US sets the global technology standard, it is still catching up in areas such as fifth-generation networks and equipment. Meanwhile, Chinese state planners are well on their way to creating a broad 5G infrastructure, importing machines from Japan and building tens of thousands of base stations — the keys to building the next generation in telecommunications. It has now become a central part of China’s industrial policy for the next five years.

The real risk to the US is that Chinese companies will once again develop a new technology on a large scale that US manufacturers must pursue. Looking in the rear-view mirror doesn’t help the US.

Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist on industrial companies in Asia. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal.

Arun Agarwal
I am Arun Agarwal, a passionate blogger and gamer. I love to share my thoughts on games and technology through blog posts. I’m also an avid reader of books about history, philosophy, science-fiction, and other genres as well as an anime fan. I like reading books that give me new perspectives or help me think differently about the world around us.