When you’re a U.S. company doing business with blacklisted Chinese telecom giant Huawei, it might be best to do so indirectly from an outpost in far off Alaska.
Reuters, however, appears to have missed the little Alaska investment firm that could.
PT Capital – the company a trio of Alaskans joined with California investor Joe Sanberg to form in 2013 – already has a relationship with Huawei. Set up to promote “Arctic investment,” the idea of PT co-founders Alice Rogoff, the former owner of the Alaska Dispatch News; Hugh Short, once the chairman of the state’s Alaska Industrial Development Authority (AIDEA); and entrepreneur and financial consultant Robert Sheldon, PT couldn’t find a project it liked in Alaska.
But it struck what it believed was paydirt in March 2017 in Iceland when it inked an agreement to purchase “100 percent of the Icelandic mobile operator Nova. Pt Capital Advisors holds 50 percent of the shares in the joint-venture and Novator, founder of Nova, along with Nova’s CEO Liv Bergþórsdóttir and Nova’s CTO Jóakim Reynisson, jointly hold the remaining 50 percent,” according to a company statement.
Sheldon was by then gone from the company, and Rogoff was on the verge of taking her prized possession – the ADN – into bankruptcy. But former Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell had joined PT as president, and he and Short were working on the Nova deal.
Less than two years after that deal was done, Nova signed an agreement to let Huawei begin testing 5G cellular technology in Iceland. It was the Chinese nation’s first penetration into the Western 5G network.
PT’s involvement with Nova was noticeably absent from a Huawei statement that extolled Nova’s role as “the first mobile operator to launch both 3G and 4G on Iceland. They now follow their tradition by also being the first to fully test 5G locally. Huawei has been chosen to be the partner and supplier of equipment needed and the trials are expected to last several months. Nova expect 5G to be widely adopted in Iceland in 2020.”
ZDNet, another tech website, ran a story in June asking “Does China’s route to infrastructure control run through Iceland’s data centers? Huawei investors or spies? When Chinese delegations arrive at your door, there must be a reason.”
Iceland, “the sparsely populated country located between the US and Europe, has recently seen a surge of popularity in tourism in part thanks to deals launched by airlines attempting to secure trade from those whose final destination is the US,” reporter Charlie Osborne wrote.
“However, it is the country’s capacity and usage of renewable energy that has seen Iceland’s prospects as a host for data centers rise….Iceland’s unique climate contributes to an estimated power reduction of 33 percent in order to keep your average data center cool all year-round.
“Added to an abundance of sustainable, cheap energy, and you can see why businesses are exploring the country for their data storage and processing needs. Iceland is also ow connected to the US and Europe through an array of low-latency, high-bandwidth submarine fiber cables, with a new cable to the UK also being considered for future construction.”
She suggested China is playing a long game in a “quest for further economic supremacy.”
Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist for President Donald Trump and the former chairman of Breitbart News, went after Huawei as a fundamental threat to Western democracy on Thursday.
Bannon noted the company’s close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army, and blasted Wall Street for trying to do business with the company because it “means more money. It means higher stock prices. It means lower slave labor (costs).”
Bannon believes it was bad when America exported large numbers of manufacturing jobs to China, and thinks it would be worse to jettison 5G communications to the China ease.
“The backbone of the future of technology is 5G,” Bannon told The Epoch Times’ program American Thought Leaders. “Right now, the path that Huawei’s taking, as a front for the PLA, is to basically take over the networks and the components throughout the world. If we allow this to happen even for a couple more years, Huawei is going to control basically the communications systems of the West, and therefore will be able to control the West.”
Bannon is a controversial national figure, but on this subject he appears to be largely in agreement with other technology experts.
“Even if Huawei is not committing the sort of crimes for which a U.S. grand jury indicted it, any company that supplies such a large percentage of the market for components of telecommunications networks and has such ties to the People’s Liberation Army is a threat,” Syracuse University law professor William Snyder told The Verge in May. “Huawei’s need to operate under Chinese laws about cooperation with Chinese military and intelligence agencies is of concern.”
No fighting tech
Though there seems a consensus that Huawei could pose a risk to the security of democratic, Western nations, there appears less agreement on what to do about it.
Qing Wang, a professor of marketing and innovation at Warwick University, argues that using Huawei 5G for espionage would not be in the company or China’s best interest.
“It is true that now that these companies have become competitive in the global market, creating jobs and tax revenue for the government, the government is keen to see that their success can continue,” he told the Verge. “If anything, it is in the interest of Huawei and the government to see the reputation and technological leadership continue rather than being ruined by scandals such as espionage.”
Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, was almost at the opposite extreme, arguing that “th is ample evidence to suggest that no major Chinese company is independent of the Chinese government and Communist Party — and Huawei, which China’s government and military tout as a ‘national champion,’ is no exception. Allowing Huawei’s inclusion in our 5G infrastructure could seriously jeopardize our national security and put critical supply chains at risk.
‘This is not about finding ‘backdoors’ in current Huawei products. That’s a fool’s errand…..Any supposedly safe Chinese product is one firmware update away from being an insecure Chinese product.”
Warner in this case sounds like a tamer version of Bannon without the attack on Wall Street.
“Advocates of free trade, in Bannon’s view, are well-intentioned, but they often ‘have this kind of soft, gauzy notion that they read in Adam Smith about free trade, not understanding that you have a gangster organization that runs a totalitarian mercantilist state’,” the Times reported.
Americans, Bannon added, fail to recognize that “the Chinese Communist Party is the Frankenstein monster created by the elites in the West—the capital provided by the elites in the West, the technology that’s provided by the elites in the West.
“The people of China are some of the most hardworking, decent people on earth. They’re enslaved by a radical totalitarian surveillance state of the Chinese Communist Party and really a radical cadre inside that Communist Party that suppresses, enslaves the Chinese people.”