US lawmakers are urging AT&T to cut ties with Huawei citing national security concerns. Earlier this month the wireless carrier backed out of a deal to carry Huawei’s flagship smartphone.
Reuters confirms now that US lawmakers were involved in pressuring AT&T to scrap this plan, fearing that Huawei would allow the Chinese government to install technology on handsets to spy on Americans. The US government is also urging AT&T not to collaborate with Huawei on 5G wireless standards. For similar reasons, Reuters reports, the US government is opposed to the China Mobile Ltd.’s entry into the US market.
“The next wave of wireless communication has enormous economic and national security implications. China’s participation in setting the standards and selling the equipment raises many national security issues that demand strict and prompt attention,” said Michael Wessel, a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, to Reuters.
Huawei, a Chinese company founded by a former PLA officer, has grown quickly to become the third largest smartphone maker in the world after Apple and Samsung. The company is also the world’s second largest telecom equipment manufacturer after Ericsson.
However, fears that the company is involved in espionage on behalf of China have hampered its entry into the US. In 2013, US lawmakers pressured both Sprint Nextel and its corporate parent SoftBank not to use Huawei equipment. In response, Huawei’s CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei circulated an internal email insisting that his company’s secretive reputation has been exaggerated.
“With regards to the media, I have always been completely transparent,” Ren wrote. In a similar vein, he has promised that his successor will not be a family member.
“None of my family members have these skills, so none of them will ever succeed me,” Ren said in the e-mail.
These assurances have apparently done little to dispel espionage concerns. US lawmakers are now warning that American companies that do business with Huawei could hamper their ability to do business with the US government. So far, Huawei, AT&T, and China Mobile have not commented on the issue.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang did not comment on the details of the aborted deal between Huawei and AT&T, and expressed hope that Chinese companies could continue to do business with the US.
“We hope that China and the United States can work hard together to maintain the healthy and stable development of trade and business ties. This accords with the joint interests of both,” Lu said.