U.S. President Donald Trump has left Huawei on a knife-edge going into a critical week for the Chinese tech giant. Reports over the weekend had suggested that the Commerce Department was due to extend the company’s license for an additional 90 days, delaying any impact from the blacklist restrictions on its extensive U.S. supply chain. But Trump threw all that into doubt, telling reporters on Sunday that “we are not open to doing business with [Huawei], I don’t want to do business at all because it is a national security threat.”
An extension of Huawei’s “temporary general license” would maintain the limited exemption that has been in place since the executive order blacklisting the company was signed in May. And while the effect of the reprieve thus far has been to maintain Huawei’s smartphone business, it has also played to the gallery of U.S. big tech that would be heavily impacted by losing the billions spent each year by the Chinese giant.
The current license is due to expire on Monday [August 19]. And the ramifications if an extension is not secured will be serious. Not only will this cast into doubt the company’s assurance that it intends to maintain the current Google Android status quo, but it would also undermine its ability to maintain existing telecoms networks and upgrade consumer products.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said, “I’m making a decision tomorrow.”
There is a game of chess being played out day by day at the moment—and the timing is all linked. A week ago, Huawei launched its long-awaited in-house operating system. Dubbed HarmonyOS, the platform is designed for IoT devices like smart TVs, cars and watches, but company execs stressed at the launch event that it could easily be adapted to power the company’s smartphones as well. True or not—and in reality it’s at best half-true with significant work required to replace Android—the message being sent to Washington D.C. and California was clear: “You don’t want to make us the enemy.”
The HarmonyOS news was followed by a report in Chinese state media that Huawei planned to launch a rival to Google Maps as soon as October. The state-controlled China Daily claimed Huawei has secured support from leading software companies, including Booking.com and is accelerating plans “to cope with the U.S. government’s ban on using Google Map in its overseas smartphones.” The idea of a Chinese built and run alternative to the Google powerhouse will be taken seriously in California.
Last week, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei warned the U.S. that if his company is denied access to the full Android OS for its future smartphones, it will set out to break the dominance enjoyed by Google (and Apple) over the world’s smartphone ecosystem, which, he claims, will be bad news for the U.S.
“If the U.S. government does not allow Google to provide the Android operating system,” Ren told Sky News, “then the world may have a third operating system—and that is not in the best benefit or interests of the United States, allowing a little brother operating system into the world.”
The threats and counter-threats are playing day by day—and so now we wait to see what Monday brings.