Trump’s decision to loosen restrictions on deals with Huawei sparks alarm in Congress

President Trump: We’ve not changed on Huawei, not dealing with company

Trump's decision to loosen restrictions on deals with Huawei sparks alarm in Congress

Some lawmakers believe the Chinese company poses a threat to US national security, others want more details

WASHINGTON – American hawks, who usually back US President Donald Trump on foreign policy issues, were wary of his Saturday announcement that he would indefinitely postpone the $ 300 billion tariffs on Chinese goods and loosen restrictions on US companies that do business with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

At a press conference on Saturday after his bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Trump said, “American companies can sell their equipment to Huawei. We are talking about equipment that is not associated with major problems in the field of national security “.

“Black list”

The announcement marked a dramatic change in Trump’s position, whose administration on May 16 put the Chinese company on a blacklist maintained by the US Department of Commerce. Inclusion on this list is a kind of “death sentence” for foreign companies, because American companies are prohibited from doing business with them without special permission from the Department of Commerce..

Then, in May, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, explaining the decision, said: “As determined by the US government, there are reasonable grounds to believe that Huawei is engaged in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”.

The company has been caught stealing trade secrets, bypassing the US ban on technology transfer to Iran, and is suspected – although this has never been proven – of being a tool of Chinese intelligence services..

Senator John Barrasso, an ally of the president, speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, told host Chuck Todd, “I am concerned about the Huawei situation. I think they pose a threat to our national security “.

When asked if he thinks Trump made a mistake, Barrasso said: “I know that the president is a man who knows how to make deals. He’s working on it. Of course, I would not let Huawei into our country. He makes decisions about what our country and our companies can sell overseas to Huawei “.

“From my point of view, Huawei in the US will become a Trojan horse, ready to steal even more information from us,” he added..

Access through loopholes

There is an important point in discussions about US policy towards Huawei that is often overlooked..

Many national security officials are deeply concerned that if Huawei equipment is used to create next-generation 5G data networks, Beijing could pressure the company to leave special loopholes for Chinese intelligence agencies to penetrate protected US systems.

Current Chinese law requires private companies to provide assistance to intelligence services at their request.

However, even before the Trump administration came, federal authorities were taking steps to restrict the use of Huawei equipment by telecom companies in the United States, and these measures have recently been tightened. In fact, the government has focused its efforts on Huawei on trying to convince strategic partners and allies with whom the US is sharing intelligence to put the company on their blacklists..

The changes Trump announced over the weekend are of a very different nature. He proposed easing the recently imposed restrictions on US companies selling their products to Huawei. We are talking, in particular, about intermediate goods, such as computer processors, printed circuit boards, and so on, which are needed by a Chinese company for the production of telephones and telecommunications equipment..

Trump's decision to loosen restrictions on deals with Huawei sparks alarm in Congress

The blacklisting of Huawei has meant that it has lost the ability to purchase key components for its equipment and obtain a license for important software, such as the Android operating system, installed on the millions of smartphones that Huawei sells annually..

The fuzziness of the new policy

As of Sunday, it was unclear exactly which goods US companies would be able to sell Huawei under the administration’s new policy, and how the Commerce Department would make its decisions..

The president’s decision to link the trade war with Beijing to the ban on Huawei products outraged many security officials, who felt that a purely defense issue was included in the much broader sphere of trade negotiations..

“If President Trump agreed to lift the recent sanctions against Huawei, he was making a catastrophic mistake,” Senator Marco Rubio tweeted on Saturday. “It would undermine the credibility of his administration’s warnings about the company’s threat. Nobody else will ever take them seriously. “.

Rubio promised that if Trump really changes his attitude towards Huawei, then lawmakers themselves will decide on a new ban. Senator suggested that both the House of Representatives and the Senate will have a sufficient majority to overcome the president’s veto.

On Sunday, the administration hastily dispatched White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow to political talk shows to reassure the president’s critics that any weakening of the administration’s stance on Huawei would have no negative national security implications..

“As far as the Huawei story goes, let me be clear that this is about US sales that will only affect general goods that are available elsewhere around the world,” Kudlow told the Face of the Nation host on Channel CBS Margaret Brennan.

“Anything related to national security issues will not receive a new license from the Ministry of Commerce,” he added..

Assurances from the administration have so far been aimed only at appeasing lawmakers worried about the president’s sharp change in stance on Huawei..

Senator Lindsay Graham, a stalwart supporter of the president in most cases, said he would not comment on whether the change was a good move for now..

“I don’t know what he agreed to about the exemptions from the ban,” he said on the Face the Nation program. – If these are minor exceptions, then everything is fine, but it would be a mistake to sell important technologies to Huawei. So I don’t know “.

“Obviously, this is a concession,” Graham said. “There is some equipment that we could sell to Huawei and other Chinese companies without compromising our national security. But Huawei was blacklisted for a reason. It is a Chinese company that is owned by the Chinese government and is strictly controlled by the military. It can be used to hack technology, data, steal trade secrets, and more. I do not know anything about the nature of the proposed exceptions “.

“If we are talking about a major concession, it will cause serious opposition. If about a small concession, then I think this is part of the overall deal, “the senator added..

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