Trump reversal on Huawei gets bipartisan pushback

Trump reversal on Huawei gets bipartisan pushback
© Getty

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE’s decision to lift the ban on U.S. companies selling products to Chinese telecommunications company Huawei is sparking pushback from lawmakers worried about the potential national security implications.

Trump at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit decided to ease his ban on the firm, announcing that “U.S. companies can sell their equipment to Huawei." He tried to allay any concerns, noting that "we're talking about equipment where there’s no great national security problem with it.”

The concession came as Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to restart trade talks after a face-to-face meeting, with Trump also saying that China would resume purchases of American farm products.

ADVERTISEMENT

The announcement brought a sharp reaction from Capitol Hill.

“Huawei is one of few potent levers we have to make China play fair on trade," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. "If President Trump backs off, as it appears he is doing, it will dramatically undercut our ability to change China’s unfair trade practices.”

Trump's announcement was a stark reversal from his previous policies toward Huawei.

The Commerce Department added Huawei to its “entity list” in May, a move often seen as a death sentence for foreign companies. U.S. companies are banned from doing business with those on the list.

But in the case of Huawei, the Commerce Department issued a 90-day extension for implementing the ban in order to give companies time to adjust. That extension is now halfway completed, with Huawei set to be added in mid-August.

Trump said in Japan that Huawei would not be taken off the entity list but added that “we are going to be supplying equipment from our companies.” 

Trump also signed an executive order in May that banned telecommunications companies deemed a national security threat from doing business in the U.S.

Security issues posed by Huawei, which is considered by many to be under some degree of control by the Chinese government, were summed up by a report put out by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (CCDCOE) earlier this year, which touched on the risks from Huawei to the development of fifth generation (5G) networks. 

“Chinese companies are not only subsidised by the Chinese government but also legally compelled to work with its intelligence services,” the CCDCOE wrote. “Whether the risk of such collaboration is real or perceived, the fear remains that adopting 5G technology from Huawei would introduce a reliance on equipment which can be controlled by the Chinese intelligence services and the military in both peacetime and crisis.”

Huawei has stayed quiet after Trump's announcement, with many details still unclear.

A spokesperson for Huawei told The Hill on Monday that “we acknowledge President Trump’s comments related to Huawei over the weekend and have nothing further to add at this time.”

But Trump's decision has led lawmakers to voice bipartisan worries about the company and national security.

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Enhancing protections for sensitive information in congressional investigations MORE (R-Ark.) tweeted on Saturday that “Huawei is not only an arm of the Chinese Communist Party, but also a close partner of the People’s Liberation Army."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE (R-S.C.) said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that “there will be a lot of pushback” from both sides of the aisle if Huawei is used as a concession in trade talks. 

Graham’s committee held a hearing in May around the rollout of 5G, following which Graham told reporters that “until China stops being a communist dictatorship, we are not going to support working with a country that uses their technology.”

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing Hillicon Valley: Dueling bills set stage for privacy debate | Google co-founders step down from parent company | Advocates rally for self-driving car bill | Elon Musk defamation trial begins | Lawsuit accuses TikTok of sharing data with China MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill last week that allowing U.S. companies to again do business with Huawei "would be a disaster.”

Warner added “we put the whole credibility of the American intelligence community trying to convince our allies about this national security threat. You know, I hope the President is able to get a trade deal, but that should not interfere or undermine our national security."

Warner’s comments were a reference to the U.S. government’s ongoing efforts to convince foreign allies to ban Huawei technologies from being used in their 5G networks. 

According to Reuters, the United Kingdom in April decided to allow Huawei technologies in “non-core” 5G networks, though no official announcement has been made. The governments of France, Germany, and Belgium have also been involved in discussions around this topic.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio places hold on number-two Interior nominee over offshore drilling Rubio on Chris Pratt water bottle story: 'I too was caught with a single use plastic water bottle' House votes to sanction Chinese officials over treatment of Uighurs MORE (R-Fla.), meanwhile, vowed to pass legislation to put Huawei back on the entity list if President Trump decides to remove it, tweeting that the bill “will pass with a large veto proof majority.”

Warner and Rubio teamed up last month in sending a letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoReport: Pompeo had secret meeting with GOP donors in London The shifting impeachment positions of Jonathan Turley The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE and U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerPelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 Pelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House On The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports MORE to express their “deep concerns” over Trump potentially rolling back the blacklisting of Huawei in the pursuit of a trade deal with China.

“Despite the best efforts of our government to convince other countries to keep Huawei components out of their 5G infrastructure, our message is being undermined by concerns that we are not sincere,” Warner and Rubio wrote. 

Larry KudlowLawrence (Larry) Alan KudlowMORE, the top White House economic advisor, tried to lessen the fears of Congress over President Trump’s announcement.

"We understand the huge risks regarding Huawei," Kudlow said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation.

“Anything to do with national security concerns will not receive a new license from the Commerce Department,” Kudlow said. “I think that’s very important. I think people have to understand that.”

Some experts outside the government are urging Congress not to rush to action.

A senior official with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, an independent think tank, said that congressional action around Huawei should be stalled until the full results of the China trade negotiations are revealed.

ITIF President Robert Atkinson said there was pressure on the administration to decouple the U.S. and China, In effect break ties between businesses in the two economies.

“The only way to slow China down, the decouplers argue, is to decouple: impose harm on Chinese tech companies with tariffs, export bans and other tools, while pressuring U.S. and other companies to withdraw production from China,” Atkinson said in a statement.

“If China proves unwilling to stop its predatory and unfair practices, maybe it will have to come to decoupling. But jumping to that conclusion before seeing if President Trump’s trade negotiations can work is premature,” he cautioned.

Mark Linscott, a senior fellow with The Atlantic Council and the former U.S. trade representative for South and Central Asian Affairs, described Trump’s announcement in a post by the Atlantic Council this weekend as “fairly predictable” and an effort to create "more space for negotiation.”

But it is unclear if Huawei's critics are willing to give Trump that room.

In an op-ed for The Hill last month, former House Intelligence Chairman Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersHillicon Valley: FCC moves against Huawei, ZTE | Dem groups ask Google to reconsider ads policy | Bill introduced to increase data access during probes House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues The Hill's Campaign Report: Red-state governors races pose test for Trump MORE (R-Mich.) cautioned against Huawei being used as a “football” to throw around in trade negotiations.

“Huawei is a security national threat, full stop, and it needs to be treated as such,” Rogers wrote.