5-G Revolution And The Battle For Techno-hegemony

5-G Revolution And The Battle For Techno-hegemony

The Fifth-generation cellular technology network (5-G), which promises higher speed, lower latency, and improved flexibility of wireless services, has become the latest battleground for the US and China.

It is estimated that 5-G will increase the speed of data transfer by 10 to 100 times than today’s typical wireless connection. This revolutionary feature will create all kinds of new opportunities for individuals, businesses and governments alike. China’s ICT giant Huawei is pioneering the spread of 5-G globally, with an edge over American ICT companies like Verizon and exactly for this reason, Huawei has become US President Donald Trump’s main target. Trump wrote, last year, in a Presidential Memorandum of instructions to federal agencies that: “It is imperative that America be first in fifth-generation (5-G) wireless technologies.”

The row over Huawei is a product of a bitter rivalry as the United States is doing everything it can to slow China’s technological pace and preserve America’s own techno-hegemony by keeping cutting-edge technology out of Chinese hands. Over the recent years, China has been replaced Russia as top geopolitical threat to the United States and spies who were caught while trying to steal and transfer US technological secrets to China are making the bulk of foreign agents in US prisons.


Unlike US relations with former Soviet Union, with which the United States had limited economic ties, China is America’s largest business partner and the latter has played a crucial role in the former’s economic development over the past few decades, despite the two countries’ ideological differences.

Taking into consideration, Winston Churchill’s motto: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, America seized the opportunity to “Make China Great Again” as former Soviet Union and China became sworn enemies in early 1960s. The animosity reached a peak when the then US President Richard Nixon made a historic visit in 1972 and restored relations with mainland China. In an effort to drive a further wedge between Moscow and Beijing, the U.S. helped China grow economically as many in the United States then believed that China would eventually become a democracy and a pro-Western country.

US financial and technological aids played a crucial role and helped China grow economically, so much so that in the next phase, self-confident China started extensive arms buildup and is now openly challenging America’s global hegemony.


Thucydides, an Athenian historian in antient Greece – who extensively wrote about Peloponnesian War in the fifth-century BC between Sparta and Athens – once observed that: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta”. In today’s geopolitical lexicon, this unavoidable collision and displacement is called the “Thucydides Trap”. In other words, when one emerging power is about to displace another established hegemon, war is almost inevitable.

However, the good news is that this would-be colossal consequential war will almost never happen thanks to the nuclear deterrence. Just as nuclear deterrence, commonly known as Mutually assured destruction (MAD) prevented the Thucydides Trap or a hegemonic war between the former Soviet Union and the USA from happening in the second half of the 20th century, the same MAD equation would prevent a possible Sino-US war in the first half of the 21st century.

However, this doesn’t absolutely mean that confrontations between the two would not erupt in other areas. Since 2012, when Chinese strongman Xi Jinping came to power as President and general secretary of the Communist Party of China, we have witnessed an expedited hegemonic war or Thucydides Trap that is going on in different forms and shapes between Washington and Beijing. However, fighting over techno-hegemony is at the top of the list and the decision to ban Huawei and to oppose Chinese 5-G by U.S. government can be viewed within this context.


Despite concerns over privacy and espionage, the uproar over China’s Huawei primarily originates from a tight race over obtaining a technological supremacy. China’s President Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2012 to stay indefinitely, introduced, in 2015, a 10-year plan called “Made in China 2025” that aims to transform China into a world leader in manufacturing high-tech products, such as 5-G networks, robots, computer chips as well as other affordable merchandise. Partly as fruits of this plan, today, US giants such as Amazon and Walmart almost entirely rely on imported goods from China. Comparing the current Sino-American trade and technological war to the US-USSR rivalry over the space, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has recently proposed legislation to counter “Made in China 2025” plan.

China is persistent to leave behind the “Century of Humiliation” and pursue the “Chinese Century” by implementing the multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and in chasing this ambition, Xi’s China has adopted a strategy of challenging US global hegemony. Trump’s America is not helping either and trade tensions between the United States and China, that are predominantly fabricated by U.S. President Donald Trump, are just one aspect of an intense geopolitical fight for techno-hegemony. This Sino-American bitter rivalry is going to be a defining force in twenty-first century geopolitics in determining the next hegemonic power and guarantor of the emerging new world order.

The techno-war between China and the United States has not much to do with privacy and espionage concerns, as it is claimed by Western countries. It is fascinating to watch the battle over Huawei and 5-G as it is all about geopolitics and US-China rivalry will increasingly define geopolitics in the twenty-first century. Within this context, the 5-G wireless technology is of paramount geopolitical significance as it will decide which country/region is going to be the hub of industry, innovation and power in 2020 and beyond.

There is no doubt that Western world doesn’t want to see China or any so-called un-Western, un-civilized, Third World country to pioneer the 5-G revolution as techno-hegemony would determine who will be the next hegemon. 5-G has the potential to formally bury Francis Fukuyama’s once widely-accepted theory of “the End of History and the Last Man,” the same theory that promised, after USSR collapse in late 1991, the Western values and Western hegemony would never again be challenged by forces from the East or elsewhere.

Ahmad Hashemi
Ahmad Hashemi is an Iranian freelance journalist and a senior expert in the Middle East region and global geopolitical trends. He has a bachelor's and a master's degree in politics from the University of Tehran. He is currently pursuing another Master’s degree in the Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, located in Washington D.C. metropolitan area. On Twitter: @MrAhmadHashemi

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December 2023