US announces sanctions on Huawei, citing human rights abuses

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday announced that the State Department will impose visa restrictions on employees of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, saying the restrictions are meant to punish complicity in human rights abuses.

“The State Department will impose visa restrictions on certain employees of … Chinese technology companies like Huawei, that provide material support to regimes engaging in human rights violations and abuses globally,” Pompeo said in announcing the step.

Pompeo said Huawei is “an arm” of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “surveillance state that censors political dissidents and enables mass internment camps in Xinjiang and the indentured servitude of its population shipped all over China.”

“Certain Huawei employees provide material support to the CCP regime that commits human rights abuses,” he added.

A spokesperson for Huawei told The Hill that the company “operates independent of the Chinese government.”

“We are a private, employee-owned firm,” they continued. “We are disappointed by this unfair and arbitrary action to restrict visas of our employees who work tirelessly to contribute to technological innovation in the U.S. and around the world.”

The State Department does not always broadcast which people are subject to visa restrictions, which typically involves barring entry to the U.S. But Pompeo indicated that he wants the Wednesday announcement to serve as a warning to other companies.

“Telecommunications companies around the world should consider themselves on notice: If they are doing business with Huawei, they are doing business with human rights abusers,” he said.

Pompeo has zeroed in on Huawei as a threat to U.S. national security for its ties to the Chinese government, and praised the United Kingdom for recently barring the telecommunications company from operating its 5G network.

“We were happy about it,” the secretary said. “Faster is always better to get this equipment out of their system, it’s a security risk. It isn’t about commercial interest, this about protecting the information in this case, of the United Kingdom’s people.”

The secretary has been part of a global pressure campaign to dissuade allies from incorporating Huawei’s hardware into their fifth-generation wireless networks.

American intelligence officials and regulators have long held that the company poses a national security threat because of its ties to China.

That concern is often tied to a 2017 intelligence law that requires companies to comply with data requests from the CCP during security investigations.

Executives from Huawei have told The Hill that they have never been asked to comply with such a request and would not do so.

The State Department did not respond to clarifying questions about what Huawei employees are supporting the CCP or how they are doing so.

Although some Huawei employees are members of the party — similar to how someone in the U.S. may be a registered Democrat — the company has pushed back strongly against suggestions that its decisions are in any way dictated by the CCP.

The latest actions are part of a broader Trump administration campaign against China that has ratcheted up since the spread of the novel coronavirus.

President Trump has put the blame for the virus on Beijing, saying the government could have “stopped it at the source” when cases were first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Critics, while arguing that China’s actions should be further scrutinized, have also accused Trump of seeking to pile the blame on China given criticism of his response to the crisis. Earlier this year, Trump has praised Beijing’s response, before the situation in the U.S. drew dire.

The United States has also taken steps against Beijing for imposing more control over Hong Kong, with the president on Tuesday ending the U.S.’s special relationship with the territory and treating it as mainland China.

Pompeo recently announced that the U.S. formally views Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea as illegal.

The Chinese government has responded to most of the moves by the U.S. as accusing Washington of interfering in China’s internal affairs and has placed retaliatory visa restrictions on lawmakers in some cases.

Pompeo on Wednesday said the U.S. strategy on China is having a “real impact.”

“In terms of Chinese behavior, how they responded, you’ve seen the language that they use, you can see that we’re having a real impact.”

Tags China Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Huawei Mike Pompeo State Department

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