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Asia

China reportedly weighing export ban on Nokia, Ericsson

After the US's effective use of export bans against Chinese vendors, it's now China's turn.

Beijing officials may prohibit the export of Ericsson and Nokia equipment out of China if European countries ban Chinese firms from 5G, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

It says China's Ministry of Commerce is weighing the imposition of export controls on gear manufactured in China, although one source described it as a worst-case scenario – only in the event of an outright ban on Chinese vendors.

It is certainly a strategy that embodies the kind of tit-for-tat logic beloved of Chinese officialdom.

But more likely this is just another piece of Chinese bluster, like the foreign entity blacklist promised a year ago that has never happened, intended to intimidate the vendors and their governments back in Europe.

In contrast to China, the US economy is not reliant on the electronics and chip manufacturing that bear the brunt of its export bans.

But China is heavily dependent on foreign electronics tech manufacturers like Nokia, which employs 16,000 in Greater China, and Ericsson, which has 14,000 in northeast Asia.

Any measures that prevent those companies from sending their product out of China would further accelerate the shift in supply chains away from the PRC.

And any bans would likely be cheered by the US as they would help to harden European opinion against China.

According to the Journal, Nokia has already moved more of its production out of China because of the possibility of a ban as well as to assure customers, in particular US customers, of the security of its gear.

But it's not just China that is engaging in some 5G bombast.

The UK government brought a little bluster of its own this week with the revelation that it is seeking help from Japan to meet its 5G requirements.

It's not clear why Japan, or why it has overlooked South Korea's Samsung, the most plausible alternative non-Chinese vendor.

The Japanese government, spying an opportunity, is tipping 70 billion yen (US$650 million) into 5G development, which helps a little.

However, the two Japanese vendors, Fujitsu and NEC, are small and almost wholly domestically focused.

As it happens, Fujitsu has just landed its first significant international contract with Dish, but it lacks the scale to supply a major rollout, despite a big hike in 5G sales in the first quarter.

The UK strategy seems to be to bring in multiple small open RAN suppliers, like Fujitsu, to ensure flexibility and competition. It may work but it contains too many uncertainties and a good deal of supplier complexity that would eat up time.

Indeed, like China's threatened export ban, it seems more like a warning to Nokia and Ericsson than a considered plan.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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