The editor’s notes and questions
* First, admissions of bias. Yours truly, the editor, is a dual US and Panamanian citizen, a Bernie Democrat as a gringo and an independent and anti-imperialist man of left as a panameño. I have pretty much assimilated the ethical principles of free expression, and the skeptical views of how it tends to be deployed in this world, that run through the journalist profession. This article is written on a Chinese-made Lenovo computer and sent to you via a Chinese-made Huawei wireless Internet modem, with which the editor is generally satisfied.
* Do I want to launch into a diatribe about oligarchy, nepotism, party bosses and controlled news media? Where to point a finger? At China? At the USA? At Panama? Let’s be neither naïve nor hypocritical here.
* Is instinctive trust ever that useful in politics, or in trying to understand the world? I have a sense of trust that was destroyed in childhood and have to look at the world in other ways — empirical ways both personal and as a history major, the sought and collected opinions of others with all due skepticism, deductive reasoning based on the inferences that might be drawn from evidence. Ditch or at least set aside the loyalties and identities when it comes to determining facts. Hold onto the fears based on loyalties and identities but don’t drown in them.
* China is emerging toward becoming the world economic hegemon, with scientific, military and political dominance that could ride their ways to the top on those business power coat tails. As a Panamanian, an even more valuable national customer. As an American, an increasingly serious national rival. As an old antiwar hippie, I say let’s NOT go to war over this. As a history major I say let’s remember the last time that the United States and China went to war, when China had been weakened by decades of civil war and had yet to re-emerge as a major world industrial power, yet the United States could not defeat China in the Korean War.
* My opinions are of somebody who well recalls the bot attack coming out of China that briefly shut down The Panama News, apparently in retaliation for an article we published about Falun Gong activities in Parque Omar. Xi is not Deng, and that bot may have been sent by an annoyed Chinese private citizen rather than the government in Beijing, or may have been sent by a criminal with an entirely different agenda who was posing as Chinese.
The Huawei threat
* To the extent that Nancy Pelosi represents a district in northern California and a party with a lot of US tech industry donors, there might be nothing more sinister about Huawei’s intention to export its 5G technology than the potential success of a business rival.
* Does Donald Trump warn us about Huawei? Ignore that. That man lies all the time and is thus the most unreliable of sources.
* Do the Chinese media protest, and present their country’s interest as all sweetness and light? Perhaps discount or at least treat with suspicion what they tell us because Chinese media, including the YouTube channel that carried the above video, are tightly controlled by the state.
* A number of US allies, including the Conservative British government, have partially or entirely rejected the Trump administration’s allegations about Huawei. The most important, but partial, rejection of the US ban on Huawei comes from the European Union, which is moving to secure its online infrastructures from threats and technological “back doors” coming out of China or anywhere else but is open for Huawei to become a central player on that field all across Europe.
* Do we want to look at the world’s experience with cyberwarfare? The Russians have used it, against the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Estonia, against the United States, against several European countries. The Chinese have used it against Taiwan in particular. The Americans have used it against Iran and most probably many others. The Israelis brag about their abilities, how truthfully beyond widespread Internet propaganda we might debate. Surely many other powers great and small maintain but do not advertise their Internet warfare prowess. It is instructive that the first detailed proofs that the US government got of Russian interference in the 2016 US elections — we can argue about how effective that was but denials are foolish — came from Dutch intelligence. Any US sales pitch about how the world should reject Chinese technology with its possible built-in insecurities and instead opt for American tech and its possible back doors is inane and deceptive.
* The radio waves inherent in wireless Fifth Generation Internet networks are greater than those in previous generations of the technology. Some of the problem has been studied and there are rules about setbacks for towers from residences that have been adopted in many places with respect to the prior Internet generations. There are people who fear and defame all new technologies but concerns should not be blown off as unique to such persons. Panama in particular has a horrible record of suppressing environmental health studies to protect economic interests, but this problem is by no means unique to us. We need to go into 5G development, if and when we do, with eyes wide open, proper safety standards and filters that screen and identify the propaganda of those with particular narrow economic interests.
I’d like to know
* Given the problems detecting Internet viruses and worms, how do people and nations deal with the threats of entire technological platforms that may have intentionally built-in and potentially crippling holes in them — especially if they are kept as “sleepers” pending some great crisis?
* Should Panama’s defense against cyber-attacks be built upon an attempt at impregnability, or should we concentrate on back-ups that make us resilient? Or are there other good approaches to cyber-defense?
* Can China really export its “firewall” of censorship via Huawei 5G networks? And if it can export enhanced censorship capabilities, what sorts of Panamanian, and American, hands should we make special efforts to keep away from the controls?
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