Winning the 5g Race with China

A U.S.-Japan Strategy to Trip the Competition, Run Faster, and Put the Fix In

Published in: Asia Policy, Volume 16, Number 3, pages 75–103 (July 2021)

Posted on RAND.org on August 10, 2021

by Scott W. Harold, Rika Kamijima-Tsunoda

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Main Argument

Chinese leaders have promoted 5G ICT as a component of both the Belt and Road Initiative and Military-Civil Fusion—efforts intended to extend China's influence around the world for national, commercial, and military advantage. Under Chinese law, 5G ICT firms like Huawei and ZTE are required to grant Chinese authorities access to any data that touches their systems. In response, the U.S. and Japan should consider working to counter the advantages of Chinese firms by cutting off their access to key markets, technology inputs, talent, and capital ("tripping the competition"); build up free-world alternatives ("running faster"); and restructure the global playing field to protect privacy, economic competition, and national security ("putting the fix in").

Policy Implications

  • To reduce Chinese firms' market access, the U.S. and Japan have focused on expelling untrustworthy Chinese 5G technology from their ICT markets, tightening foreign investment review processes, enhancing visa screening and working with universities to counter Chinese intellectual property theft and talent recruitment, and ensuring that Chinese 5G firms are unable to draw on allied capital markets to fund their expansion.
  • To provide alternatives to Chinese 5G ICT, Washington and Tokyo are actively investing in secure and resilient 5G technologies and using these as a bridge to 6G solutions, while leveraging export promotion and development finance tools to help these technologies spread in third-country markets.
  • To balance privacy, economic competition, and national security, the U.S. and Japan can promote Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) and virtualized core technology solutions to restructure wireless markets, while also working with partners to advocate for data privacy norms embodied in international standard-setting institutions.

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