Any time would be a bad time for the US to put even more curbs on Huawei's supply of chips.
For obvious reasons, now is the worst possible time to further slow economic activity.
But even if we weren't poised for the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, the idea of blocking chipmakers like Taiwan Semiconductor is a bad one.
It would damage suppliers, damage the supply chain and damage customers. It would also further damage the role of the US as the guarantor of free and mutually beneficial global trade.
As even supporters of the US blockade of Huawei have acknowledged, the bigger problem is that Washington doesn't offer an alternative to the Chinese vendor.
The best way to do that is to be able to aid Western vendors to compete in the market – not sabotage Huawei so it can't serve its customers that have chosen to buy its kit.
While the Huawei blacklisting seems to be taking its toll, the US had little success in its diplomatic campaign against the vendor. (See Huawei gloomy about 2020 as US sanctions take toll and COVID-19 threatens.)
The biggest factor is likely its insistence for many years that Huawei has been an enabler of China's worldwide hacking and cyber espionage spree. That Chinese hackers have had no trouble in breaking into the Pentagon, NSA orOPM without Huawei's assistance seems to have gone unnoticed.
In the last couple of years this trope has largely been replaced by the 5G threat and the notion that Huawei might some time in future 5G networks do what it has never done in 3G or 4G. While sympathetic, key allies in Europe and Asia still have not been persuaded.
However, thanks to some recent FT.com reporting, we learn of an actual Huawei threat to networks.
Huawei is the author of the Chinese government's scheme for a new, authoritarian-friendly Internet architecture, dubbed "New IP." It is in the early stage of trying to push this through the ITU standards groups.
We have few specifics, but it seems that in this new framework telcos would have the ability to monitor and manage every device connected to the network.
Those with a long memory will recall that in the early 2000s China was fixated on the US control of ICANN and DNS root servers, arguing this kind of centralization was unhealthy.
With "New IP" China is arguing for centralization at national level.
Those who have seen Huawei's New IP presentation describe it as a top-down approach to Internet management embodying China's concept of "cyber-sovereignty."
Instead of an open, flat, global web with the same standards and protocols in every country, each country would create its own version of the Internet amenable to government control and direction.
Reportedly, some "New IP" networks are being built right now in multiple countries, although Huawei apparently can't explain more because of "commercial sensitivities."
That this work is proceeding in secrecy, and that neither Huawei nor any government official feels confident about disclosing any details, is itself highly suggestive.
Huawei has claimed nonsensically that the project "is open to scientists and engineers worldwide to participate in and contribute to." As no one outside a tiny circle knows what it is, it is absurd to claim that it is open to participation.
Huawei's important additional role here is as the major supplier to telcos in many developing countries. It is these governments that are likely the biggest enthusiasts for a manageable Internet without being hectored by Western governments about openness and freedom. And Huawei staff are on hand to help them build it.
So if Washington wishes to gin up support in Western capitals for measures to constrain Huawei, it could hardly find a better issue than this assault on the open Internet.
Critics have described the New IP framework as an engineering solution to a political problem.
For all its governance flaws, the current Internet works extremely well as a collaborative engineering exercise that is capable of delivering extraordinary traffic loads. We need no better example than the pivot to work-from-home in the last month.
Of course, China and its freedom-loving friends in Moscow, Riyadh and Tehran may be careful to get what they wish for.
Instead of a flat, open, collaborative Internet that speeds information around the world, they may find themselves hidebound inside hierarchical, gated silos.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading