Best Buy, America’s largest consumer electronics retailer just ahead of Amazon, will stop selling phones and other devices made by the Chinese company Huawei. The decision is a relatively small but important indicator that the New Cold War is spreading deeper into the retail sector as America and its allies square off against China and Russia for global dominance.
Details surrounding Best Buy’s decision to no longer carry Huawei devices have yet to be announced, but it’s believed that the Minneapolis-based retailer will start pulling products from store shelves in the next few weeks. All we know for sure is that Best Buy doesn’t want to talk about it.
“We make decisions to change what we sell for a variety of reasons,” an unnamed spokesperson for Best Buy told Reuters without giving any further information.
The move, first reported by CNET, comes at a delicate time for US-China relations. Not only have the Trump regime’s policies raised the spectre of a global trade war, top US government officials continue to express concern that Chinese electronics makers like Huawei and ZTE pose a national security risk to the US.
“We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks,” said FBI Director Chris Wray in a hearing last month.
The head of the NSA echoed those concerns, saying, “This is a challenge I think that is only going to increase, not lessen over time for us. You need to look long and hard at companies like this.”
While none of this is new—the US House Intelligence Committee released a report saying as much in 2012—Best Buy’s decision represents a shift in American retail that could send ripples through other industries.
American media has been reluctant to spell out precisely why Chinese electronics makers would be a national security threat, but much of it comes down to what would happen if the New Cold War turned hot. Foreign media allied with the United States are much more blunt.
“Let’s say for example there’s a war. China decides to invade Taiwan, and then Australia suddenly becomes a hostile adversary,” an expert from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently told Australia’s ABC about why Australia is also concerned about companies like Huawei.
“[China] can switch their intent, and therefore harness these tools that they’ve got sitting there latently,” he continued.
Which is to say that if shit gets real between the US and China and a shooting war began, China could hypothetically use its foothold in the American electronics market to do anything from tap phones to simply turning them all off. And while that’s all hypothetical, it’s the kind of thing that American intelligence agencies are paid to think about.
Huawei is the world’s third largest smartphone manufacturer, but its latest iPhone competitor, the Mate 10 Pro, hasn’t been selling well in the US. In fact, the company was recently caught posting fake reviews to Best Buy’s website in an effort to juice sales.
With Huawei sale struggling in the US, it may not seem like a big deal for Best Buy to pull the plug on the company. But just as we’ve seen in threats about a trade war, China could potentially retaliate by pulling America products from its own market. Apple, for instance, has just 23 percent market share with the iPhone in China and would love to capture more. But the Chinese government could make that a lot harder if it decides that its own companies aren’t being treated fairly in the US.
Only time will tell, but it sure feels like the New Cold War will start to touch a lot more aspects of our lives very, very soon.