Home / Articles / China’s 5G networks: A tool for advancing digital authoritarianism abroad?
This article examines the claim that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) promotes its commercial interests in building 5G network infrastructure abroad to advance digital authoritarianism. Critics view China’s actions as part of a well-coordinated, strategic effort to promote authoritarian values, spread its version of authoritarianism, and shape global governance norms around information and communication technologies. However, concerns over China’s 5G infrastructure in supporting digital authoritarianism may be overstated. This essay finds that geopolitical dynamics and local economic considerations challenge China’s capacity to influence governance practices and questions the notion that China’s promotion of its 5G network infrastructure has a clear political, strategic intent. The findings suggest that the United States needs to refocus its messaging around the geopolitical and security risks associated with greater dependence on Chinese digital infrastructure as well as create new industrial policies to better compete economically in 5G.