The Trump administration’s standoff with Chinese tech giant Huawei is entering a new phase, one that could put existing intelligence-sharing agreements with U.S. allies at risk.
The U.S. has reportedly warned Germany that it would no longer fully share intelligence information with the European ally as it has in the past if the country works with Huawei to boost its domestic tech infrastructure, signaling American officials are willing to put long-standing relationships on the line as they raise concerns about the company’s alleged ties to Chinese intelligence agencies.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are applauding the move, arguing that kind of action is necessary to protect U.S. secrets from China. And it could set the tone for the Trump administration’s stance with allies when it comes to Chinese tech firms: It’s us or them.
“It would make sense that there would be a concern of what we share with any partners would find its way back to Chinese intelligence,” Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinBipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader House panel approves B boost for defense budget Democratic lawmakers urge DHS to let Afghans stay in US MORE (D-R.I.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities, told The Hill.
Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm If Congress can't work together to address child hunger we're doomed Ex-Rep. Mike Conaway, former aide launch lobbying firm MORE (R-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who has been highly critical of Huawei, said that sharing any information that could go back to China is “a risk that’s going to be evaluated.”
“We just can’t risk giving Xi Jinping that kind of information,” Conaway said of the Chinese president.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told authorities in Berlin that the U.S. would start to withhold information from German intelligence officials if the nation worked with Huawei technology.
Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is seen as a global leader when it comes to emerging technologies like 5G networks, which are expected to be faster and reach far more people than existing mobile networks.
U.S. officials and policymakers argue that Huawei’s close ties to the Chinese government make it a national security threat. But Huawei is fighting back against that assertion.
Andy Purdy, the company’s chief security officer for the U.S., maintained during an interview with The Hill on Thursday that he and other Huawei executives are not in touch with Chinese intelligence. But he acknowledged that U.S. authorities are willing to believe Huawei shares sensitive information with the Chinese government, regardless of what the company says.
“The U.S. government assumes that Huawei must cooperate with the Chinese government in a way similar to the way American companies, apparently, at least in the past, have cooperated with the U.S. government,” Purdy said. “I think it’s inconceivable to the U.S. government, inconceivable that there wouldn’t be this improper influence of the Chinese government and Huawei.”
Purdy, a former cyber official with the Department of Homeland Security, said he thinks some countries view the U.S. as being “sort of being a bully” when it comes to Huawei, and that U.S. unwillingness to publicly back up its claims about the company is bolstering foreign officials who are dubious of allegations that Huawei is a national security risk.
U.S. allies like Australia, New Zealand and Japan have also raised questions about Huawei, whereas others like India are moving full speed ahead with the company’s technology.
This latest escalation in the battle with Huawei comes amid legal developments between the two adversaries.
The U.S. recently unsealed several indictments against the Chinese tech firm, alleging it violated sanctions on Iran and stole intellectual property from T-Mobile. And on Thursday the company pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges in the Iranian sanctions case.
Meanwhile, federal authorities are in the process of attempting to extradite Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou from Canada, where she was arrested last year at the request of the U.S. China is fighting the extradition process.
And Huawei filed a lawsuit last week against the U.S. government over a provision in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act that blocked federal contractors and agencies from using Huawei products.
Still, Purdy said Thursday that the company is prepared to come to some sort of agreement in the near future with American officials that would allow Huawei technology to be more widely used in the U.S.
He didn’t rule out a scenario where Huawei could team up with a third party to potentially ease some of the national security concerns.
“We are open to risk mitigation techniques and mechanisms,” he said. "But at this point, we want to be ready if and when the U.S. government's willing to talk with us about these things.”