Home appliances could be used to keep tabs on Western citizens through their China-made microchips, a Washington think tank warns
Next time you open your fridge for a late-night snack, watch out, because China might be spying on you!
Or so reads a recent report from a Washington-based think tank called Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act (OODA), and it claims that Chinese appliances, through the microchips used in their construction, may have the ability to commit espionage against you by sending information back to Beijing.
Sound familiar? It’s the same line US politicians used against Huawei, and are currently using against TikTok and numerous other things from China. Is there any proof for any of this? No, but when was any ever needed? The goal is to deliberately create fear to undermine the market position of Chinese products and shore up American protectionist goals, a classic tactic from the US playbook.
The report was actually sent to UK ministers by a former diplomat, and the alarm in its wake is being raised primarily in British media. While most of the headlines talk about potential spying on British citizens, the threats mentioned include industrial espionage and the tracking of US weapons sales.
It doesn’t take much to figure out the American roots of the new “Chinese spy fridge” scare. Not only is OODA based in the US capital, but most of its experts and advisers boast backgrounds serving in, or working with, the US military, the CIA and other government and intelligence agencies. The UK, for its part, is Washington’s key ally in its efforts to contain and counteract China.
In the United States, the biggest industry and market of all is in fact weaponized fear. The government has the ability, working in tandem with the establishment media, to incite mass panic and paranoia against a given target in order to meet the government’s goals and objectives. Despite claiming to be a “free thinking” and enlightened democracy, the US population, as well as that of its allies, are arguably more subjected and more receptive to tactful manipulation than any other in the world.
It was the experience of World War II and the Cold War that shaped the ability of the US elites to instil mass fear as a weapon. It always has the same simple logic to it: X is a dire threat to the freedom and democracy of the United States, therefore we must act. While McCarthyism is one of the most famous examples of how unhinged this culture can become, the most telling example of all time is how the US fabricated a lie that Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction and was going to give them to terrorists to use against America. In doing so, the US framed a war of geostrategic aggression into a falsified discourse of national security.
There are numerous other examples. However, with China, it has taken a new dimension. That is, the utilization of fear and McCarthyism in order to undercut Beijing as a commercial competitor. This has involved the recycling of Cold War I style paranoia of “infiltration” to target specific products and services. For example, while Republicans still utilize the whole “reds under the bed” rhetoric in attacking Chinese students, spies, etc, this time around they also apply it to any company, service or technology, if the US equivalent cannot compete against the Chinese one.
For example, this becomes “Huawei is spying on you” or “TikTok is spying on you.” But in this case, a US think tank has taken it to a new dimension arguing that “Chinese-made fridges and household appliances are spying on you.” While the media will portray these allegations as serious fact and analysis, what they are really doing is scaremongering. The real goal behind this rhetoric is to push for US protectionist goals in order to discredit China’s advances in high-end technologies. These types of allegations are used to create political consensus for bans and blacklisting, so that Chinese products (such as 5G) are removed from the market. The US acts, then pushes allies to do the same.
The specific attack on fridges and other appliances stems from the news that, despite US sanctions, China’s semiconductor capabilities and industry are beginning to grow, and US efforts have not been able to stifle Chinese progress in the form of low-end chips. This has allowed China to advance up the value chain in terms of sophisticated consumer goods, such as fridges, televisions etc., and threaten established competitors. So what is the US reaction to this development? It is not to compete fairly, but to act in bad faith and accuse them of being vehicles for espionage. It doesn’t matter if there is no evidence behind these allegations, because it is a “guilt by association” logic and it sticks in the public mind.
Therefore, it should be expected that there will be a push, possibly from US senators or representatives, to either ban, restrict or further tariff Chinese high-end consumer products made with Chinese semiconductors, to protect American markets. It is designed to supplement the logic of “America first.” When it comes to protecting and advancing its own interests, the US is ready to play dirty, and inciting mass paranoia in its own citizens is one of the ways it does so – from weapons of mass destruction to Chinese spy fridges.