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Biden tightens screws on Huawei, ZTE

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US president Joe Biden.
US president Joe Biden.

The US government is set to tighten screws on Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE.

This comes after the US president yesterday signed the Secure Equipment Act, a law that targets firms deemed to pose a national security threat to that country.

The Secure Equipment Act directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt rules clarifying it will no longer review or issue new equipment licences to companies – such as the People’s Republic of China state-backed firms Huawei and ZTE – on the agency’s “Covered Equipment or Services List” that pose a national security threat, says the US Senate in a statement.

It notes the FCC is required to maintain this list under the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019, which laid out detailed criteria for determining what communications equipment or services pose an unacceptable risk to US safety.

In May 2019, former US president Donald Trump announced Huawei and ZTE – along with several other Chinese companies – had been placed on the blacklisted entities list. Companies on this list are unable to do business with any organisation that operates in the US.

With the ban, these companies cannot work with companies such as Google, Qualcomm and Intel, among many others.

The US accuses Chinese tech companies of spying on customers through device “backdoors”, which had been designed for use by law enforcement. The companies have repeatedly denied spying for China, arguing they are political victims of the trade war between the US and China.

In 2020, the FCC adopted new rules requiring US telecoms carriers to rip and replace equipment provided by “covered” companies.

“While that was an important step, those rules only apply to equipment purchased with federal funding,” says the US Senate.

“The very same equipment can still be used if purchased with private or non-federal government dollars.”

It says senators Edward Markey and Marco Rubio introduced the Secure Equipment Act to close this loophole and further prevent identified security threats from having a presence in US telecoms networks.

“In today’s increasingly connected world, we must animate our technology with our values,” says Markey. “That’s why our bipartisan legislation will keep compromised equipment out of US telecommunications networks and ensure our technology is safe for consumers and secure for the United States.

“I’m proud to have helped lead this effort and I thank my colleagues in both chambers of Congress for passing our Bill. I stand ready to now work with the Biden administration and the FCC to implement this critical national security measure.”

“Chinese state-directed companies like Huawei and ZTE are known national security threats and have no place in our telecommunications network,” says Rubio.

“I am grateful the Senate and House passed this Bill, which will help keep compromised equipment from bad actors out of critical American infrastructure.”

South China Morning Post reports the new bipartisan legislation signed on Thursday had passed in the House last month by a vote of 420-4, and then passed in the Senate unanimously, a sign of the massive distrust across the entire political spectrum in Congress towards the Chinese government and China’s biggest tech companies.

It adds Biden signed the Bill just days before he is expected to speak with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in a call that the White House has described as a virtual summit.

Huawei and ZTE had not commented on the issue at the time of publication.

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