Mike Pompeo proposes American Great Firewall to keep out Chinese technology

Foreign Affairs

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the U.S. to develop a “Clean fortress” around citizens’ data, with unclean technologies defined as those with Chinese origins. This is essentially an American version of China’s Great Firewall, though its implementation is uncertain.

mike pompeo at a podium with a screen saying the words "5G clean path" behind him
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Image via the U.S. Department of State.

Not even a week ago, the Trump administration gave an ultimatum to ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of TikTok, to either sell its U.S.-based operations or be banned by September 15.

The Trump administration is now doubling down on its own version of “internet sovereignty,” the concept that undergirds Beijing’s implementation of its infamous Great Firewall, particularly in the era of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平.

Announcing the Expansion of the Clean Network to Safeguard America’s Assets,” a press statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reads like a Chinese Communist Party document on internet and network security, but in English and with “P.R.C.” swapped out for “foreign.”

The “Clean Network program” adds “five new lines of effort” to the already-existing “5G Clean Path initiative,” Pompeo says. Those five cleans:

  • Clean Carrier — defined as those that are not “untrusted People’s Republic of China (PRC) carriers.”
  • Clean Store — an effort to cleanse the American app store marketplaces of P.R.C. apps, which “threaten our privacy, proliferate viruses, and spread propaganda and disinformation.”
  • Clean Apps — a denunciation of Huawei’s app store.
  • Clean Cloud — the unclean cloud services, of course, are those operated by the Chinese tech giants Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent.
  • Clean Cable — to guard against the possibility that undersea cables could be “subverted” by the P.R.C.

The goal of the five cleans, Pompeo exhorts, is to build “a Clean fortress around our citizens’ data.”

Our take

This is literally an American version of China’s much-criticized Great Firewall. It is unclear if it will ever be fully implemented, and some observers have raised questions about whether parts of it would be enforceable in the American legal framework, but Pompeo is not deterred by the irony.

See also:

  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo at a press availability / U.S. Department of State
    “With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat, and others are significant threats to the personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for CCP content censorship.”
  • Elsa B. Kania on Twitter: “The word ‘clean’ appears 14 times in this notice; the words ‘secure’ and ‘security’ are used a mere 4 times by contrast. And there is minimal attention to standards despite their immense importance in this context.”
  • Graham Webster on Twitter: “I’ll point out the name, targeting only Chinese ‘unclean’ technology, echoes generations of anti-Chinese racism (just like today’s ‘China virus’ slur).”
  • Ankit Panda on Twitter: “The sad thing is nothing recommended here would have prevented, say, the OPM breach or the Equifax hack.”