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Now that Donald Trump is gone, will sanity return to the global tech ecosystem?

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Toby Shapshak is publisher of Stuff (Stuff.co.za) and Scrolla.Africa.

It’s time for tech to pick up the pieces postTrump, especially those Chinese firms maligned without any evidence offered. Of the many companies who will breathe out in relief that Donald Trump is no longer US president, surely the deepest sighs will come from Huawei and TikTok.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

With Trump and his chaotic approach to geopolitics, and his haphazard use of executive orders gone, what does it mean for the Chinese companies he relentlessly attacked? These firms battled innuendo from the Trump administration for years, as securocrats convinced the former president and much of the Western world that Huawei posed a threat to telecommunications, despite never providing evidence.

Huawei is the world’s biggest provider of telecoms equipment, giving about two-thirds of the world’s population access to the internet in some way. Huawei is also the major supplier in South Africa, providing an estimated 80% of the population with some form of internet access. It also supplies the superfast 5G networks that are being trialled by Rain, Vodacom and MTN.

Technologically, Huawei is a phenomenal company. It spends an enormous amount on research and development, which is why it is ahead of everybody else when it comes to this new telecommunications standard. But threats and suspicions have put them on the wrong side of the Great Sino-Trumpian Trade War of 2018.

Similarly, TikTok was the focus of the petulant man-child’s anger when youngsters on the social media network spoofed the Trump campaign into thinking more than 1-million tickets had been sold for his first rally after the Covid-19 shutdown of the American economy in 2020. When less than half the stadium was filled, Trump was humiliated.

Many believe this is the reason he demanded the fast-growing network be banned or sold to an American company. What followed were months of bizarre negotiations, including calls with the CEO of Microsoft and joint ventures involving Oracle and Walmart, of all companies, to buy TikTok or its American arm (with 100 million users) … or something. It was never clear.

So what does Trump’s departure mean for these massive businesses with huge interests in the US? Huawei and many observers have consistently pointed out that Trump never produced any evidence for his claims that the Chinese telecoms giant has a so-called back door into networks.

Ironically, it is the monstrous attacks of American agencies by Russian hackers one should be concerned about (something like 250 networks in total). Bizarrely, Trump tried to blame China for this hack, despite his own officials fingering Moscow as the culprit.

This is just one of the many destructive, lingering consequences of the Trump years and his utterly odd approach to geopolitics. New President Joe Biden has a lot of unnecessary mess to clean up.

The tech industry will be hoping the strange bans on working with Chinese companies will be rescinded and the conduits of globalisation will be restored. If nothing else, Huawei smartphone owners, especially, will be hoping they will be able to use the Google Play Store for apps again. The app-makers will be pleased to be able to count the hundreds of millions of Huawei phone users back into their numbers.

Huawei is a phenomenal company. It spends an enormous amount on research and development, which is why it is ahead of everybody else when it comes to this new telecoms standard. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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