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[Update 5/15/19: President Trump has signed the order authorizing the commerce secretary to block U.S. transactions for communication technology built and controlled by foreign adversaries.]
President Donald Trump this week is expected to sign an executive order that would bar U.S. firms from using telecommunications equipment made by Huawei and other companies that pose a national security risk.
The order has reportedly been under consideration for more than a year, but has been repeatedly delayed (and could be delayed yet again). But, as Reuters points out, it comes at a time of escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and China. The order invokes the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the president broad authority to regulate trade in a national emergency.
It’s worth noting that the order doesn’t specifically call out Huawei — or any other company or country, for that matter. But it’s likely that Huawei will be deemed a national security risk if the order is signed.
As far as why Huawei would be in that category, the U.S. government has long expressed concerns that devices and telecommunications equipment made by the Chinese OEM could be used by the Chinese state for espionage and spying. While Huawei handsets aren’t the most popular in the U.S., use of the OEM’s telecom gear is more common.
Huawei denies the allegations, and even goes so far as to claim that the U.S. is unjustly “abusing its national power” to boost American technology companies while suppressing Chinese ones.
Back in January, however, U.S. prosecutors charged Huawei with conspiring to steal cell phone technology and trade secrets from T-Mobile. They also charged Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou with violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Polish authorities arrested a Huawei executive in January on allegations of espionage.
Washington has already taken steps to curb the use of Huawei and other Chinese equipment in the U.S. Back in August, Trump signed a bill that barred government entities from using hardware made by Huawei or ZTE.
The U.S. is also actively pushing other countries to avoid Huawei hardware in their own telecom infrastructure, particularly as carriers all across the world are building out telecom infrastructure for the impending 5G rollout.
While all major U.S. telecom firms have cut ties with Huawei and other Chinese OEMs, there are still plenty of smaller, regional carriers in the U.S. that rely on Huawei and ZTE for their infrastructure. There appears to be no easy or cheap solution for those smaller carriers to replace that telecom tech.
That, along with the rollout of 5G, will only make the issue even more urgent and complicated in an already delicate time between the U.S. and China.