Tectonic plates shift under new geopolitics

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    There are fairly obvious reasons why Theresa May’s Britain is going one way with a Huawei high-speed 5G technology network and New Zealand is going another. And none of them have anything to do with Wellington picking the US over our traditional colonial ties.

    Tory Britain has been courting China since 2010 despite worries that Huawei, umbilically tied to the Chinese government and legally obliged to help its intelligence agencies when requested, should be kept well clear of Britain’s critical infrastructure. Instead, between 2016 and 2017, Chinese investment in the UK doubled to $20.8 billion (according to a consultancy working on behalf of the China-Britain Business Council) and between 2018 and 2022, Huawei itself pledged to spend almost $4 billion in the UK.

    Not that we haven’t been towed down that river ourselves, to judge by that rather ghastly NZ Herald supplement in March 2017 that applauded Chinese infrastructure investment, lectured readers on ‘The China advantage’ and told us that it was “time for all New Zealanders to get smart about where New Zealand’s future prosperity lies”, ie with Asia, including China.

    Writer Cathy Quinn concluded that the region had “a growing middle class who want what our nation has to offer – high quality food, stunning scenery to visit, an excellent education sector, innovative people and a country that by and large understands no-one owes us a living”.  

    A roll-back from this pragmatic view of globalization was likely to have severe negative economic consequences for us, she said, stepping over the already growing awareness here that many of her readers might not think the world owed us a living but we did want to be able to house our future generations and considered 30 years of rampant inequality a severe downside to our post-Rogernomics reputation as a highly profitable place for the global financial hegemony to do business.

    Technological Luddite or not, and whether the financial bonanza of a new technology requiring new phones all round goes to Huawei or Spark in New Zealand, 5G is pretty underwhelming for most of us.  Our noses are welded to smartphones, sure, but no-one thinks that’s a good thing.  

    Telco sales in the 1980s into private hands made overnight fortunes and left us with a 20-year wait for fibre that we have since paid for with taxpayer funds.

    A few years ago, journalist and broadcaster John Campbell blew the whistle on Apple’s $6.8 million tax bill on revenue of $568 million.

    The little pocket surveillance device that also allows us to make phone calls is looking pretty treacherous but also weird.  Likewise data collection. Everyone with a smartphone will change their minds and their buying patterns in an instant if consumerism is suddenly unfashionable, and data storage algorithms will not transfer the sensibilities and purchasing choices of one human generation to the next.

    On Waiheke, we take the wellbeing of whales and dolphins seriously and can argue decisively that if double-decker buses endanger skinks, the buses go elsewhere. The idea of our hideous power poles – already thick with overhead cables – sprouting new antennas and generating strong, pulsed ultra-high frequency radio waves that are much more dangerous to human health than our present technology is ghastly. Not least that the wireless devices that connect to 5G emit electromagnetic frequency waves that can cause infertility, foetal damage, cancer and other diseases.

    Google says there has been no pre-market testing of 5G and it is assumed safe if it does not burn the skin. Like prior 2G, 3G and 4G networks, they are considered dangerous only if they heat the body.

    There has to be a precautionary principle here. Who is to say what happens if we divert scarce resources to retrofit the urban landmasses of the entire world with a mini cell tower every two to eight houses, each emitting ultra high frequency and ultra high intensity electromagnetic radiation?

    1G, 2G, 3G and 4G use between 1 to 5 gigahertz frequency. 5G uses between 24 to 90 gigahertz. 

    The cost benefit of universal G5 is derisory and probably more so if infrastructure costs land on hard-pressed taxpayers instead of the uber-profitable telcos that barely know what taxation means. 

    At every point of the environmental and ecological world, we’re already handing our offspring a poisoned chalice. There are islands on the planet already where children put their chairs on the desks when the tide is high. Everywhere, the young could and should be angry with us for being so blind to their very right to exist. Fast video streaming isn’t going to cut it. • Liz Waters

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