US steps up efforts to purge Chinese tech companies

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The US government has accelerated its efforts to purge Chinese apps and technology companies that it deems untrustworthy.

Yesterday, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo issued a statement, announcing the extension of Washington’s 5G “Clean Path” programme to encompass carriers, app stores, cloud computing and subsea cables under the “Clean Network” umbrella.

Said Pompeo: “The Clean Network programme is the Trump administration’s comprehensive approach to guarding our citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.

“Today, I am announcing the launch of five new lines of effort to protect America’s critical telecommunications and technology infrastructure.”

According to Pompeo, these programmes are rooted in internationally accepted digital trust standards and built upon the 5G Clean Path initiative, announced on 29 April, to secure data travelling on 5G networks into US diplomatic facilities overseas and within the US.

The latest announcement comes amid an escalating trade war between the US and China – the world’s biggest economies.

Companies like Huawei and video-sharing app TikTok have been the biggest casualties of the raging trade war.

In the case of Huawei, after imposing sanctions on the Chinese-based telecommunications giant, the US has been lobbying its allies to follow suit by banning the company in their 5G networks.

The Trump administration accuses Huawei of being a national security threat because of its close ties with the Chinese government, an allegation the telecoms company has flatly denied.

On TikTok, US president Donald Trump and his administration raised national security issues, alleging the Chinese-owned company will share sensitive user data with the Chinese government.

Trump then gave US-based software giant Microsoft a go-ahead in its negotiations with ByteDance, to acquire popular short-video app TikTok – if the deal is completed in the next six weeks.

However, Chinese state media, China Daily, has responded by saying pressure on ByteDance to sell US operations to Microsoft or risk closure amounts to a “smash and grab”.

China will not accept the US’s “theft” of a Chinese technology company, the state media said, adding Beijing has ways to retaliate against Washington’s pressure on Chinese-owned app, TikTok.

‘Clean fortress’

According to Pompeo, the five new lines of effort for the Clean Network are as follows:

Clean Carrier: To ensure untrusted People’s Republic of China (PRC) carriers are not connected with US telecommunications networks.

He said: “Such companies pose a danger to US national security and should not provide international telecommunications services to and from the United States.”

Clean Store: To remove untrusted applications from US mobile app stores. “PRC apps threaten our privacy, proliferate viruses, and spread propaganda and disinformation. Americans’ most sensitive personal and business information must be protected on their mobile phones from exploitation and theft for the CCP’s benefit.”

Clean Apps: To prevent untrusted PRC smartphone manufacturers from pre-installing – or otherwise making available for download – trusted apps on their apps store.

“Huawei, an arm of the PRC surveillance state, is trading on the innovations and reputations of leading US and foreign companies,” said Pompeo.

“These companies should remove their apps from Huawei’s app store to ensure they are not partnering with a human rights abuser.”

Clean Cloud: “To prevent US citizens’ most sensitive personal information and businesses’ most valuable intellectual property, including COVID-19 vaccine research, from being stored and processed on cloud-based systems accessible to our foreign adversaries through companies such as Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent.”

Clean Cable: To ensure the undersea cables connecting the country to the global Internet are not subverted for intelligence-gathering by the PRC at hyper-scale.

“We will also work with foreign partners to ensure undersea cables around the world aren’t similarly subject to compromise,” said the US secretary of state.

He points out that momentum for the Clean Network programme is growing. “More than 30 countries and territories are now ‘Clean Countries’, and many of the world’s biggest telecommunications companies are Clean Telcos. All have committed to exclusively using trusted vendors in their ‘Clean Networks’.

“The United States calls on our allies and partners in government and industry around the world to join the growing tide to secure our data from the CCP’s surveillance state and other malign entities. Building a clean fortress around our citizens’ data will ensure all of our nations’ security,” Pompeo concluded.

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