China Wins Middle East’s Data, Cyber ​​and Technology Race


Washington must integrate data, cyber and technology at the heart of its foreign policy in the Middle East. Currently, the United States is prioritizing the Middle East as its main area of ​​interest and refocusing its worldwide strategic footprint on its main emerging rival, China. One of the leading instruments of China’s geostrategic influence is Beijing’s use of technology and innovation policy, as is Huawei’s hardware and technology education at Chinese universities. The Chinese geotech influence is almost unprecedented and aims to position China as a major player in global geopolitics without using traditional military expansionism. Rather, Beijing is building a geotechnological niche through active 5G diplomacy, technology infrastructure and education.

This is the impetus for Washington’s campaign against Huawei, ZTE and crippling China’s semiconductor industry. In the Middle East, US partners increase technology cooperation with China. Under these circumstances, they do not necessarily have to fall for Beijing’s technology and cyber trap, but there is a growing distrust of American technology and Washington’s distrust as a security guarantor, pushing these countries to pursue policies centered on cyber-sovereignty.

These new policies focus on building their own local cyber and technology capabilities independent of Washington, a trend that poses long-term threats to US national security interests. New geopolitical lines will be drawn around technology networks and information flows, thereby being historically geo-formed. As a result, Washington must develop a cyber and technology doctrine that informs its regional partnerships and alliances while repositioning the United States for strategic leadership in the Middle East.

Fighting for 5G

Over the past two decades, Huawei has evolved from a low-cost information and communication technology (ICT) vendor to a fully integrated technology partner for many US allies. Sweetcorn, Moroccoand Arabian Gulf countries. While the cyberattack on Chinese technology and its US allies has yet to affect US bilateral relations with these allied nations, the trend should still worry policymakers in Washington because it will ultimately undermine alliances built over the past seventy years.

Fortunately, the Biden administration has a springboard to deter its regional partners from fully integrating with Chinese tech companies. In Europe, the Trump administration has pursued an aggressive strategy to dissuade its Western allies from allowing Huawei to build 5G networks in the region. In 2020, Washington launched the Clean Network Initiative (CNI), in which many European countries have committed to ban Huawei.

For example, Israel removed Huawei from its 5G network; France has blocked telecom operators from renewing their licenses for Huawei’s 5G equipment. actual This ban will remove Huawei from France’s 5G networks by 2028. London has also banned Huawei from the UK’s 5G network and will remove existing Huawei equipment by 2027. The Biden administration must develop the CNI and continue to persuade its allies to join the initiative .

Additionally, Washington has other policy options to deter its allies from integrating with Chinese-made 5G networks. The US should condition military support, intelligence sharing, and development aid for allied nations to exclude Huawei and other Chinese firms from their infrastructure.

For low- and middle-income countries that use purely cost-benefit analysis – Huawei is an indispensable partner for them – the United States should consider creating a G7-backed fund to subsidize these countries when migrating their 5G networks from Huawei to a designated system. List of CNI approved vendors such as Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia. Under the Trump administration, Washington has committed $1 billion to fund Brazilian telecom companies’ purchases of 5G equipment from Huawei’s competitors. While this promise situation If so, it represents a model that can be used elsewhere in coordination with the G7 countries.

Data Sovereignty is the New Norm

An overlooked trend in the Middle East is the rise of data sovereignty. To prepare for a post-oil future, the three largest economies of the Arab World, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, are working hard to implement large-scale digital transformations. In doing so, they actively attract multinational technology companies, develop high-tech smart cities and invest in human capital.

However, all three governments have joined a growing global trend to localize their citizens’ personal data. While the region is enacting new laws on consumer data processing, Middle Eastern governments seem to eschew the US data privacy approach in favor of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) model.

Egypt in February 2020 passed Law on Protection of Personal Data No. 151, which restricts the transmission of personal data to recipients outside of Egypt, unless the Egyptian Data Protection Center approves. UAE applied in the same way The Personal Data Protection Act, another GDPR-style national data law, as part of the National Cybersecurity Strategy. Similarly, Saudi Arabia in 2022 began to enact Fundamental principles of the Personal Data Protection Law (KVKK), fully implemented in 2023, with the aim of addressing the processing of personal data of its citizens and residents by organizations beyond the borders of the Kingdom. Whether for commercial, privacy, national security or intelligence gathering purposes, data sovereignty is the new norm in the Middle East and worldwide.

while European Union, Chineseand Russia While Washington has developed its own data frameworks, it has failed to reach an agreement on a coherent strategy for local federal data regulations or data sovereignty policies enacted by allies and foes alike. United States of America abandon the idea that the data is “incompatible with existing regional jurisdiction concepts” and develop a framework for personal data collection and cloud storage within its borders.

The formulation of a well-articulated and easy-to-implement US federal approach to data transfer is fundamental to Washington’s relationship with its US partners in the region. The purpose of the US government’s engagement is the bilateral and multilateral Data transfer framework with partners and allies in the Middle East. This end US-EU transatlantic data transfer agreement It can be a model for cyber relations with its partners in the Middle East, especially with countries that have adopted the data sovereignty model such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt.

Diplomats and Technology

There is a new lack of understanding in Washington. geotechnology Middle East map and US allies and partners data and technology sovereignty. The lack of understanding may result from focusing too much on the Middle East from a regional studies perspective. Many policy practitioners lack the technical expertise needed to understand and lead issues such as data localization and transfer, emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, and 5G/6G networks.

Many foreign policy leaders have called for reform of the US State Department on technology and innovation. For example, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former professor and current US ambassador to the UN, and Ambassador William Burns, director of the CIA, made The case that the chief technology officer should help diplomats grapple with disruptive technologies and leverage private sector talent. All US embassies and consulates need a technology officer who studies emerging technology trends and their impact on bilateral relations. Without it, there will always be a flaw in the understanding of Washington’s allies and partners. strategies and motifs in this age of “big tech” decomposition

Simply put, to counter China’s technological hegemony, Washington should keep its allies out of China’s technology networks as much as possible until the US develops the necessary framework, incentives, influence and power. receive Leadership in the development of 6G and the subsequent information revolution. Washington also needs to recalibrate its bilateral relations with its allies and partners in the Middle East to focus on data transfers similar to the US-EU transatlantic data agreement. Centering data and technology in US bilateral relations in the region will respond to Washington’s strategic needs despite a technical shortfall in its foreign service. Still, the foreign service must develop capabilities to understand the global Geotech map and ultimately the priorities of regional policymakers, especially in an era of great power competition and great divergence.

Mohammed Soliman is a global strategy consultant and non-resident academic at the Middle East Institute. Follow him on Twitter @this issolliman.

Image: Reuters.

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