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Port cranes lifted into the realms of spy movies: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-22 20:22

US President Joe Biden. [Photo/Agencies]

The Joe Biden administration is reportedly going to issue multiple cybersecurity directives on Wednesday aimed at addressing what it calls "vulnerability" at US maritime ports. The move comes in the wake of claims by some US lawmakers that cargo cranes made in China pose potential security risks.

The US government plans to invest more than $20 billion over the coming five years in new port infrastructure, primarily to replace the Chinese-made cranes in US ports with those to be built in the United States. Currently, about 80 percent of cargo cranes in US ports, and about 70 to 90 percent in major ports of other countries, are made in China.

But while ports are of great importance to national security, it is going too far to allege that China-sourced cranes could be controlled remotely and are therefore a threat to the country. It has even been suggested that the cranes may be collecting information from the ports about what is being shipped and to and from where. Which may be an imaginative premise for a Hollywood movie. But it is more alarming as a possible sign that it is part of the US efforts to "set the theater" with its scaremongering.

Taking it one step further, according to these voices crying the wolf is at the door, anything connected with the internet poses a risk as it can potentially be accessed and exploited by hostile hackers. Their concerns are misplaced as they should be worried about the network itself, the core of which is controlled by the US.

They should be reminded that the Chinese port crane manufacturers still rely heavily on hydraulic machines, frequency converters, electric machines, electric programmable logic controllers, machine vision control systems and various other core parts and technologies from the US, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Sweden.

That China's port crane industry has prospered quickly over the past decade is mainly due to its increasingly prominent advantages of scale rather than its control of the core technologies and parts. Previously, the cranes were mainly manufactured in Japan, the ROK and Europe.

If the US government really wants to localize the assembly and manufacturing of such large-scale port infrastructure and facilities, it will require a reshuffle of the global industry and supply chains in the sector.

The difficulties the US government has encountered in attracting chipmakers to relocate their production from China to the US by promising them subsidies, that have subsequently proved to be hard to get, suggest the port crane initiative is doomed to almost certain failure.

The Chinese port cranes are by no means Trojan horses but the results of market competition, the international division of labor and cooperation.

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