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Timing is everything in life.
Not quite two weeks ago Fortune hosted scores of Western executives in the southern Chinese megalopolis of Guangzhou. We had a splendid time: an open exchange of ideas, a vibrant discussion about the future of technology and U.S.-China relations, bonhomie all around. Participants at the Fortune Global Tech Forum focused on technological advancement and commerce. The thought of being arrested as pawns in an increasingly hot 21st century Cold War couldn’t have been further from our minds.
What a difference two weeks makes. With a senior Huawei executive out of jail on bail in Vancouver and one or possibly two Canadian citizens detained in China in what looks like a retaliatory move, the future for the global technology business looks bleaker than any time since the innocuous-by-comparison dot-com bust. As Clay mentioned here yesterday, western countries are already trying to freeze out Huawei from telecom networks.
What we used to call dot-coms or Internet companies have the least to worry about. China has prevented U.S. “Internet” concerns from operating at scale in China. Their counterparts have made big investments in the United States but otherwise haven’t made commercial inroads.
The story is moving so fast, which is jarring because the framework took so long to build. The China-focused global supply chains that prop up the U.S. hardware giants have been around for decades. A trade war—combined with an executive class terrified to board airplanes to China—could chip away at that framework quickly.
These are trying times.