Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris didn’t mince words in his evaluation of the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.
Beijing has long taken advantage of other countries and U.S. President Donald Trump is right to seek changes out of Asia’s largest economy, he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Tuesday.
« President Trump is right about that: This has been a long time where we closed eyes on China raping us. So, by the time you come and tell them, ‘You need to change,’ I mean, they just used to be so comfortable and do whatever they want, » he said. « But I think the leadership is smart, so they will change what they can change. If you tell them, ‘You need to change your whole system,’ they won’t be doing that. »
« So we need to see what we can get without disrupting their system, » Sawiris added, noting that he sees potential for change in « lots of things, » including by importing more from trade partners.
Given that, he expressed optimism about the future for trade negotiations between the U.S. and China: « I think they’ll come to a conclusion — because China has more ambition than to start now another aggravation. »
Still, overall, he said, « the political situation in the whole world has never been worse. »
« People expect wars … whether it’s a trade war or its a real war, » Sawiris said, noting a list of geopolitical hot spots including « the Middle East in disarray » and China pressuring Taiwan. « It’s just not like a very stable world today. »
Sawiris, who has vast telecommunications holdings, also weighed in on the drama around Chinese equipment maker Huawei.
Since 2012, Huawei, the world’s largest maker of networking equipment, has been barred from selling those products in the U.S. on the explanation of security concerns by the U.S. government. China and Huawei, meanwhile, have repeatedly denied that there’s any risk to other countries from the company’s hardware, and alleged that the American injunctions are actually due to fears of competition.
« I think there is genuine concern, and I think it’s justified, » the Egyptian billionaire told CNBC on Tuesday. « It’s actually taking the West very long to — I mean, you know, telecom was my domain — to get worried. I think they should be worried. »
Now, several other countries have taken Washington’s lead and moved toward banning Huawei products from being used in their own development of 5G tech — the next generation of ultra-high speed internet
Sawiris warned that such concerns, although justified, may eventually lead to technological silos between countries.
« I don’t know how we’ll remedy that because that will apply then to everyone: If I’m Chinese, I might not any take equipment from Motorola, for example, » Sawiris said.
Ultimately, he suggested, the only way to solve the problem would be « if all the security agencies somehow swear on the Bible that they will not be spying on each other. »
But even if such an unlikely event were to take place, he added, « who’s going to believe them? »
—CNBC’s Saheli Roy Choudhury contributed to this report.