A visit to Huawei’s HQ in Shenzhen is a glimpse into the way China’s leadership would like to envision its future. About 180,000 workers throng quietly around a pristine campus in the new-build city, which prizes digital expertise so highly that some outstanding engineers are lured with special rent deals to work on a campus that looks more like architect-designed Silicon Valley than the crowded factories that feature in much of urban China.
I was whisked around examples of sleek bicycles, remote-controlled fridges telling me when food needed to be consumed and super-fast immersive gaming – all showcasing the speed and flexibility of 5G-honed technology. Huawei is the jewel in China’s tech crown, a subject of pride at home and an export success as the world’s biggest supplier of telecoms equipment. But that jewel is fast turning into a flashpoint between Beijing and western governments, emblematic of deeper tensions about trade, security and a divide over the hidden risks of globalised digital advances.