The new Huawei campus in Dong Guang, in the middle of the new megacity of the Pearl River (as large as Germany), will host the headquarters of the Huawei Group. The campus consists of full scale perfect copies of 12 historical centers of European towns, chosen in a non trivial way, i.e., avoiding the most commercialised locations, such as the Pisa Tower or the San Marco Square, and, instead, in search for hidden pearls of European culture, from Verona to the Heidelberg castle, up to the Alhambra and al Generalife of Granada (moreover Paris, Burgundy, Fribourg, Český Krumlov, Budapest…)-places that even Europeans often ignore-. This “ideal town”, built according to the examples of Pienza, Sabbioneta, Palmanova and Zamość, constitutes in itself a well-conceived challenge to the present non-existence of a European ICT culture.
It represents also the most recent example of the spirit by which China, or at least a part of it, is facing the challenges of modernity, a spirit which is evidently traditional, or, more precisely, “axial” (from the idea of an “axial era”, to which Jaspers, Eisenstadt, Kojève and Assman have made reference). This spirit is made still more evident by the continuous quotations of Chinese and European antique, starting from the Clay Army and the Great Wall , not to speak of the Hanfu movement, and arriving at the clonation, everywhere, of European monuments, with a devotion that we do not have here in Europe.
1. Ren Zhengfei’s Offer
Also the offer of Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s CEO, to sell (or, better, to licence) to a foreign competitor his technology, falls doubtless within that “perennialist” mood. According to Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, the objective of a commander is “To conquer the Tian Xia without killing anybody”. Already here we can appreciate the differences with Google. In fact, in their book “The New Digital Era”, two board members of Google, Schmidt and Cohen, explained how they had worked out together, in a Baghdad destroyed by American bombs, the newest Google strategy, which would have been “to substitute Lockheed in leading America in the conquest of the world”.
It is said that also Ren would have incited his shareholders-staff members to move towards world conquest. However, he has not linked this program to a military or ideological agenda, but, as it seems, to a cultural vision.
In a certain sense, President Trump is right in thinking that the ongoing economic and technological by-pass, by China, of the United States, is due to the ability of Chinese people in copying the West. In fact, all civilisations which have progressed and won have massively “copied” their predecessors (Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Macedonia, Rome…).All extra-European countries (America, Russia, Turkey, Japan, India, after the colonial period, have massively copied Europe, starting from religion (Brahmo-Samaj, Bahai, Taiping), going further to ideology (nationalism, monarchy, liberalism, marxism, fascism), and economy (free market, socialism), for arriving at technology (ITC, high speed trains, ecology, space). If we want to qualify this as a “theft”, well, theft would be the equivalent for “history”.The USA are the most blatant case of a continuous “theft”, having “stolen” their land to Indians, their freedom from blacks, the North American territory from European settlers, their ideas from Britons and Hiberians, culture and technology from German and Jews…
The idea of a “New Europe” in China represents a response to the ideas of Hegel on the “End of History” with Europe and to the one of neo-Hegelians that America is the “real” end of History. If the Spirit of the World follows westwards the course of the sun, then, after America, it will enlighten again China (and Eurasia).
The Chous: a Chinese-Italian family
2.Trump’s Struggle to Curb China
In any case, that eternal will to emulate other peoples had never been pushed forward so insistently as in the case of the China of the last 30 years, arriving up to cloning the very hidden idea of modernity, the revolution of intelligent machines. But China is able to do more than what USA could ever have dreamed, because China includes in itself, under a sole leadership, a universe which is larger than the whole West, a universe including top technologies and primitive societies, a large cultivated bourgeoisie and a very numerous Lumpenproletariat, wide bureaucratic and managerial middle classes and a myriad of SME: that “unity in diversity” which everybody extols, but that cannot be achieved elsewhere, in countries of widespread homologation. On the contrary, China’s empire has been in a position to play on several economic tables, from war communism to the most extreme laissez-faire, from maoism to international finance, from free market to “military keynesism”. Still now, China is in a position to mobilise in a differentiated ways millions of migrant workers as well as officers, of entrepreneurs and of scientists, on all terrains and on the most different economic landscapes . In such way, it has been able to escape the bottlenecks of a “mono-thematical” development path, such as Soviet-type planning and/or Anglo-saxon neo-liberalism.
Trump, having abandoned (as it was overdue) the hypocrisy of the preceding Presidents, is acting rationally when he, as the defender of the United States, tries openly to put a brake to this unprecedented growth of China. However, he cannot escape the consequences of the limited scale of his country and the -albeit weak- “checks and balances” which still limit his freedom of movement -first of all, the existence of the European Union (which he considers as his worst enemy)-.It is not a case if he is making every effort for imitating China, starting from concentrating all powers in himself and from deleting the few veto powers remained to Europeans. It is also normal, in the logic of international power struggles, that Trump succeeds partially to curb the growth of China together with the welfare of the rest of the world, but it is very unlikely that his successes becomes decisive.
In fact, since 4000 years, East has been transferring technologies westwards (agriculture, writing, papyrus, purpure, strategies, silk, potteries, glass, compass, gunpowder, printing, paper money), and 500 that the West transfers technologies eastwards (metallurgy, steam and internal combustion engines, newspapers, cars, radio, movies, energy, television, space, ITC). It is a sort of “communicating vessels”. The contractual forms may vary ad infinitum, but, in substance, it is still not possible, as long as intelligent machines will not impose their own world empire, that, in the whole world, only one supplier exists for any essential object of demand. A similar situation would in any case generate a war aiming at the forceful appropriation of the new technologies. China has just now prevented a similar strike from the part of Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, from one side resisting the dissolving influences of its peripheries, and, from another, creating, as it has done, Chinese homologues of the “Big Five” (Baidoo, Alibaba, Tencent).
The first Internet, Minitel, was European
3.The End of the Silicon Valley Monopoly
After having created an alternative to the Silicon Valley, China is offering to the rest of the world an opportunity for real competition, creating two parallel ITC ecosystems, not limited to “either bloc’s” territory, but worldwide. Paradoxically, the existence of a competition at least worldwide is a traditional pretention of Western “free market” rhetoric and one of the bases of both US ad EU competition policy. In abidance with this principle, US and UE enforcers had not hesitated, in the XX century, to impose “orders to divest” to Standard Oil, SKF and General Electric. Well: since nobody in the world dares now to issue a (badly needed) “order to divest” against the Big Fives, enjoying an absolute power everywhere, Ren has issued against himself an “order to divest”, thus supplying an example which may have a disruptive impact worldwide. If Huawei has felt obliged to break-up its own monopoly, why should the Big Five not do the same?
In view of the foregoing, it is impossible to prevent Chinese technologies to flow into the rest of the world ,even if this constitutes an outrageous challenge to the hegelian and weberian dogma that the economic development of modernity is a direct and unescapable consequence of the puritan (American) revolution. This dogma, evoked a long time ago by Marx as a justification for slavery in the States and, by Rostow, as a basis for his “Development Theory”, represents the “hidden engine” of American power, in the same way as theology represented, according to Benjamin, the hidden engine of marxism. If this dogma would fall, not just the West, but also modernity, and even the United States, would fall apart.
Olivetti and Chou: prematurely disappeared
In the last few days, myriads of hypotheses have been worked out for explaining Ren’s proposals. Most of them are inspired by eternal anti-Chinese biases. First of all, the suspicion that the proposal is “a tactical trick”, or that it is the evidence that Huawei is desperate, for not being able to sell enough mobiles and other equipment in the West.
The truth is that the whole life of today’s technologies is based upon IPR transfer contracts: nobody has been able to exploit forever an invention under a monopoly; since ever there have been an “exhaustion of rights”, a “trickle-down effect”, licences and know how agreements. This contractual and commercial transfer of technologies has represented since ever a physiological form of international technical cooperation, albeit some “pathological” cases of forced transfer of technology have existed, like the capture and deportation of von Brown and of Antonov. China is trying precisely to avoid that things may follow again that course.
Moreover, the transformations under way in world economy are so fast, that the role of Chine, as the focal point of this economy, cannot but change without interruption, so that what was true yesterday is no more true today. If China had been transformed in the ‘90ies, by US multinationals, by the delocalisation of their productions, into the “manufacturer of the world”, China is new becoming (always in symbiosis with Western economic milieus), “the brain of the world”. In such situation, it is no more so important, for China, that telecom products are manufactured within the Huawei universe: what is strategic is to govern the international supply chain as a qualified partner for its players. In the same way as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba already do.
A licence of the G5 technology, as liberal as it may be, would not put an end to Huawei’s “intellectual leadership”, whose force derives precisely from continuous innovation. The Dong Guan campus will be used precisely for nurturing innovation worldwide. The fact of having been built “copying” the bulwarks of European culture (and not of the American, Russian, islamic or Indian), shows that the model, and the natural partner, for these developments is Europe. This for two reasons: one is historical, since DA QIN has represented since ever the mirror image pole of the Silk Roads, at which China has looked since the times of the Former Han; the other, geopolitical, because Europe is, today, the mirror-image of China, and therefore is complementary to it in culture, politics, technology and economy.
Olivetti: a piemontese entrepreneur with universal ambitions
5.Challenging the Cultural and Technological Backwardness of Europe
From the technological point of view, Europe appears, at the down of the Era of Intelligent Machines, as an underdeveloped country: “If it is true that Europe has, in extra-UE commerce, a positive balance of manufacturing export as a whole, it shows a deficit as to high technology productions. In 2015, the European deficit has been of 63,5 billion Euro, especially, but not only, towards China: also the United States, Korea, Japan, and even Vietnam and Thailand, have achieved a an export surplus in high tech products towards the European Union… “(Francesca and Luca Balestrieri, “Guerra Digitale”). As the cited authors are writing, “The discontinuity marking the beginning of the second phase of the digital revolution should offer theoretically to Europe the opportunity for a change of direction: in the new mix of converging technologies, the European excellence in sectors like robotics, automation and -in general- manufacturing 4.0, could foster the birth of new global champions, having their roots in Europe. The critical element consists in the ability to work out an effective European scale industrial policy.”
According to me, the absence of Europe from high tech is a consequence of a generally favourable geopolitical and intellectual environment (i.e. of motivated vanguard engineers, such as von Braun, Turing, Olivetti, Chou, or, in the US, Wiener, von Neumann, Esfandiari, Kurzweil…; of initiatives like Minitel or Programma 101; of an independent military decision-making center like DARPA, financing ITC as intrinsically “dual”; of intelligence networks apt to prevent the theft of technologies).Perhaps, also of secret agreements with the US.
Notwithstanding all that, if, in the XX century, European countries still could have hoped to maintain their “European lifestyle” while remaining simple “followers” of the US, they cannot nurture such hope after the digital revolution, dominated by the Silicon Valley, Dong Guan, Xiong’an, Bangaluru, Internet providers,digital intelligence, Big dat, quantic computing and 5G.
In Europe, nobody has yet understood that today’s societies have overcome the axle-ages logics, as well as the ones of modernity, based upon religion, humanism, rationality, law, personality, freedom, state, industry, society. Those elements have been substituted with ICT, machine dominance, “Big Data”, “hair trigger alert”, social media, Big Five, virtual mankind. Who is not in a position to master this complex world will step quickly down, to the level of a passive object, of a Guinea pig, of a mere archaeological fund, from which to dig new ideas (as it happens in the Dong Guan campus).
Today, US, China, Russia, India, Israel, Iran, have their own Big Data, their own digital intelligence, their own ICT pundits, their own OTTs…We don’t. For this reason, we have lost any possible geopolitical status and even the capability to survive economically and culturally.
Vega: Italy’s Luncher, is a part of the European Arianespace Consortium
6.Let’s Build-Up a European ICT Agency
Escaping this decadence spiral requires a cultural shock and new technologies. Both of them could come from Dong Guan : from one side, regenerating our pride of belonging to “DA QIN”, the other major pole, together with Asia, of human civilisation, and, from the other side, utilising 5G technologies, which represent the ICT of the future. For both things, we need China.
As Francesca and Luca Balestrieri are writing, “The forecasts of the next few years include so many variables, that bi-polarity does not appear to be a destiny necessarily scratch us by the logic of a new cold war: although, at present, the scene is dominated by the US and China, the second phase of digital revolution is still open to a possible wider dissemination of industrial power and to a more sophisticated geopolitical landscape.”
Having in mind such objectives and such strategy, Europe should organise a negotiating package with Huawei, to which not only the European ITC multinationals, but also other subjects may be involved, first of all the European Union, possibly as such. I cannot see why, as we have a European Space Agency, we could not have also a European ICT Agency, which operates, directly or via financial vehicles (such as Aerospatiale), as a player on the market of digital products and services, acquiring premium technology where it is available, and creating the new (and today not existing) ruling classes of the European ICT society, in the same way as, for the design of “Programma 101”, Adriano Olivetti had hired (upon recommendation of Enrico Fermi), the Italian-Chinese engineer Mario Chou.
After the deception of the neo-liberal and post-humanist rhetorics, everywhere a very interventionist mood towards ICT is gaining momentum, alongside the examples of the US DARPA and of the Chinese Committee for the Unification of Civil and Military. Well: if even Great Powers need such instruments for disputing mutually about the technological world dominance, imagine if we Europeans do not need a similar approach for avoiding to be reduced to the role of “digital primitives”, as a consequence of the most spectacular “market failure” of world history.
Also we must build-up our humanist-digital campus, including both the best traditions of all phases of Europe’s history and a selected anthology of all cultures of the world.