Seemingly out of the blue, Donald Trump weighed in on the future of U.S. wireless technology Thursday morning.
The reference to 6G tech, which does not actually exist, prompted a lot of jokes about 7-minute abs and razor blades. But, while they may have sounded a bit goofy, Trump’s comments could have significant implications for the administration’s stance toward China. Washington and Beijing officials are resuming trade talks on Thursday (they supposedly have a March 1 deadline for reaching a deal, though it’s unclear how firm that is), and one of the major points of diplomatic tension between the two countries in recent months has been the U.S.’s aggressive pushback against Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant that is a leader in 5G tech, and which American leaders have accused of posing a “national security threat.” U.S. intelligence officials have worried that China could use Huawei’s hardware to spy on other countries and have urged allies not to adopt it. In December, Canada arrested Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, on behalf of U.S. authorities, which are seeking to extradite her. Huawei and Meng, who is the daughter of company founder and CEO Ren Zhenfei, have been indicted stateside on charges of violating sanctions against Iran; the company faces separate criminal charges that it stole trade secrets from T-Mobile. A Huawei employee was also arrested in Poland last month on spying charges.
With trade talks picking back up this week, CBS News has been airing an interview with Ren, in which the CEO has denied the spying allegations. In a segment that aired this morning, he complained that the U.S. government has “been regarding 5G as the technology at the same level of the—some other military equipment. 5G is not an atomic bomb.”
He later added: “Now we are rolling out 5G and soon we’ll welcome 6G. And in the future, I said there will be new equipment that is suitable for the United States.” Soon is almost certainly an overstatement. China’s government has said it plans to start research on 6G technology next year, with the hope of rolling it out by 2030. But regardless of whether Ren was exaggerating, it seems likely Trump picked up on his comments (otherwise it seems unlikely he’d be talking about a still-imaginary wireless standard). As CNBC notes, by saying he doesn’t want to “block” more advanced tech from entering the country, the president may be signaling a softening attitude toward Huawei.
Trump has reportedly been preparing an executive order to ban Huawei and ZTE from operating in the U.S., which would grant U.S. companies a little more cushion to build their own 5G networks. Now it seems Trump could be reconsidering a ban on Chinese telecoms.
So, as the Onion would say, fuck everything, we’re going to 6G.