Senators urge Trump not to use Huawei as 'bargaining chip' in China trade talks

Senators urge Trump not to use Huawei as 'bargaining chip' in China trade talks
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan pair of senators on Thursday warned the Trump administration against using Chinese telecom giant Huawei as a "bargaining chip" in U.S.-China trade talks, calling the federal government's actions against the company a matter of "national security." 

The letter comes after President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE in recent weeks signaled he might be willing to relax some of the sanctions against Huawei in exchange for concessions from China in the trade negotiations.

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Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump asserts his power over Republicans Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks MORE (D-Va.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThis week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic Trump asserts his power over Republicans National security adviser says foreign powers trying to exploit US race relations MORE (R-Fla.), both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in letters on Thursday said Huawei should be treated as its own issue rather than being tacked on to the U.S.-China trade war. 

"Allowing the use of Huawei equipment in U.S. telecommunications infrastructure is harmful to our national security," Warner, who is the top Democrat on the panel, and Rubio wrote. "In no way should Huawei be used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations."

"Conflating national security concerns with levers in trade negotiations undermines this effort, and endangers American security," they wrote in the letters addressed to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHouse, Senate panels to question ousted State Dept. inspector general on Wednesday: report National security adviser says foreign powers trying to exploit US race relations Britain and Europe need to step up their support for Hong Kong MORE and U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerGOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 Pelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House MORE

The offices for Pompeo and Lighthizer did not immediately respond to The Hill's requests for comment.

The Trump administration and security hawks have focused scrutiny on Huawei, painting the telecommunications company as a significant threat to national security and raising concerns that the Chinese government could commit espionage using Huawei equipment. They have argued that Huawei's ties to the Chinese government should disqualify the company from building any of the United States' next-generation wireless networks, also known as 5G. 

Huawei has vehemently denied all accusations that it has acted improperly and has offered to sign onto a "no-spy" agreement.

There has been little public evidence to substantiate the threat posed by Huawei, but the Trump administration has cracked down on the sale or use of the company's equipment on several fronts.

"As Members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), we have strongly supported efforts by our diplomats, military, and intelligence personnel to persuade allies and partners around the world that Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications firms present a long-term legitimate security threat to their network security, data privacy, and economic security," the senators wrote.

Huawei is the largest producer of telecommunications equipment in the world, and it is considered vital to many countries' buildout of 5G networks. 

Next-generation 5G wireless is expected to provide internet connections that are exponentially faster than current speeds, enabling a host of new technologies. The Trump administration has made it a priority for the U.S. to win the "race" to 5G over China, which is also pushing the technology.

Experts have said 5G technology is nowhere near ready for wide-scale rollout.

"Huawei is something that’s very dangerous," Trump said in recent remarks. "You look at what they’ve done from a security standpoint, from a military standpoint. It’s very dangerous."

But he also opened the door to using Huawei as an issue in trade talks.

"So it’s possible that Huawei even would be included in some kind of a trade deal. If we made a deal, I could imagine Huawei being possibly included in some form of or some part of a trade deal,” Trump said.