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Trump bans Huawei in US markets, saying Chinese firm poses security threat

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 5/15/2019 By Don Lee, Los Angeles Times

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WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump issued a sweeping executive order Wednesday to block U.S. companies from using products made by Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co. and other foreign communications firms seen as a threat to America, taking a long-anticipated action that he had postponed while Washington and Beijing were in intense trade negotiations.

The White House said the president was taking the action to "protect America from foreign adversaries who are actively and increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology infrastructure and services in the United States."

Trump's directive does not name any company from China or any other country, but it clearly is aimed at Huawei, the world's largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer. U.S. officials have led an aggressive campaign to restrain Huawei's global expansion as a leading supplier of the next-generation 5G wireless networks.

With the trade talks at an impasse since Friday, Trump signed an order that was prepared months ago. It immediately added a new level of friction to the standoff, which has led to escalating tit-for-tat tariffs between the world's two largest economies.

U.S. officials argue that using Huawei equipment poses risks of Chinese espionage or sabotage. Top Huawei executives have vehemently denied they would allow the Chinese government to use their products for surveillance.

Trump's order formalizes what was a de facto ban on Huawei in U.S. markets in recent years as the Pentagon and Congress made moves to discourage its growth.

Few Americans own Huawei cellphones and only a small number of local U.S. telecom service providers in rural areas have Huawei gear in their systems.

Even so, many in the U.S. intelligence community sought an official ban from the White House, saying it would make the dangers clear and help the administration's efforts - so far only partly successful - to persuade key allies to shun Huawei.

Washington has become increasingly worried about Beijing's cyberintrusions and hacking of U.S. companies for sensitive information and technology and trade secrets.

The U.S. concerns about cybertheft were on the agenda during the trade talks with China, although U.S. negotiators reportedly dropped the issue recently.

The two sides broke off negotiations Friday after the White House accused China of backing away from previous agreements, and Trump sharply escalated tariffs on Chinese goods. Chinese President Xi Jinping responded with countertariffs on Monday.

No new talks are scheduled, although Trump and Xi are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit next month in Osaka, Japan.

a sign in front of a building: A Huawei location in Santa Clara, Calif., on April 19, 2018. © Yichuan Cao/Sipa USA/TNS A Huawei location in Santa Clara, Calif., on April 19, 2018.

The Trump administration, with bipartisan support in Congress, considers China a top strategic adversary and threat to America's security and economic interests - and technology is a major battleground in this rivalry.

Against that backdrop, the White House has stepped up its rhetoric and moves to isolate Huawei and other Chinese telecom firms.

Although U.S. officials have offered no public evidence of malicious code or so-called back doors in Huawei equipment, they argue that its products can't be trusted because Beijing could at any time order Chinese companies to do its bidding.

The Pentagon already has moved to block sales of smartphones made by Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese firm, at its retail stores in military bases.

In December, Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, who is the daughter of the company's founder, Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Vancouver on a U.S. warrant. She is fighting extradition to the United States on charges that she and Huawei conspired to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Huawei also faces charges of stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile. Meng and Huawei have denied all charges.

The company has fought back in recent months, filing a civil lawsuit in Canada and publicly denouncing Meng's detention as politically motivated and a violation of her rights.

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

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