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Bill would bar feds from contracting with firms using Huawei, ZTE technology

Bill would bar feds from contracting with firms using Huawei, ZTE technology
© Greg Nash

A Republican lawmaker introduced legislation this week that would bar the federal government from contracting with firms that use equipment produced by Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei and ZTE, citing spying concerns.

Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects House Intel votes to release Russia transcripts Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems MORE (R-Texas) announced the bill on Friday, drawing renewed attention to concerns in Congress about the firms and their relationship with the Chinese government. 

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“Chinese commercial technology is a vehicle for the Chinese government to spy on United States federal agencies, posing a severe national security threat,” Conaway said in a statement. “Allowing Huawei, ZTE, and other related entities access to U.S. government communications would be inviting Chinese surveillance into all aspects of our lives.”

Huawei is the largest telecommunications manufacturer in the world, its competitor ZTE following close behind. Both firms are headquartered in China. 

The bill introduced this week would prohibit the federal government “from using or contracting with an entity that uses” telecommunications equipment or services from Huawei or ZTE or any of their subsidiaries. There have been previous efforts in Congress to restrict the firms’ access to the federal market. 

The firms have long fought concerns in Washington that their equipment could be compromised by the Chinese government. The House Intelligence Committee issued a report in 2012 labeling Huawei and ZTE a national security threat. 

“We have been hindered by unsubstantiated, nonspecific concerns that Huawei poses a security threat,” Charles Ding, a Huawei executive, said in congressional testimony the same year.

Conaway described that report as “incriminating” on Friday. He said that the spying threat is “now reemerging as the Chinese government is reattempting to embed themselves into U.S. technology.” 

Conaway introduced the bill just as news broke that AT&T had walked away from a prospective deal to sell Huawei’s new smartphone, the Mate 10, to customers in the United States. 

According to The New York Times, the deal collapsed after a group of U.S. lawmakers voiced concerns about a potential deal between Huawei and an American firm to sell products in the states in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

Four Republicans have signed on as cosponsors of the new legislation.

The companies have faced other hurdles in the United States. ZTE was fined over $1 billion last year after admitting to violating U.S. sanctions by shipping equipment to Iran and North Korea. The Commerce Department is also said to be investigating Huawei’s dealings with sanctioned nations.