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With the high-profile announcement of indictments by the U.S. Department of Justice against Huawei recently, a lot of concern has rightly been raised about the Chinese telecom giant.
But this flurry of attention might cloud the real threat: the Chinese government’s long-term effort to dominate the global telecommunications market as part of their “Made in China 2025” and broader strategic plans. Many Western government political and security officials have correctly identified Huawei and ZTE as tools of the Communist Chinese government and extensions of their military and intelligence services. As such, it is finally time for a whole of government approach here in the United States to aggressively counter the threat posed by Huawei and ZTE.
Just a dozen years ago, Huawei was a backwater company with lousy gear that was not a marketplace threat to Western telecommunications suppliers. But through market distortion, rampant theft of intellectual property, seemingly endless lines of credit from the Chinese government, corrupt business dealings and legitimate investments into their own research and development, Huawei is now the world’s largest telecommunications infrastructure provider and the second largest producer of smart phones.
One doesn’t need an economics degree to recognize these troubling trendlines: Huawei was on a path to put the few remaining Western telecommunications equipment providers out of business. In that scenario, the only end to end option left in the world would be a Chinese one, with Chinese law requiring strict compliance by Huawei and ZTE with their military and intelligence services. One doesn’t need an international relations degree to determine that if the Chinese control the global flow of information, their authoritarian nature and expansionist designs puts them in the driver’s seat to replace the United States as the world’s economic and military superpower
To help prevent this future, a recent paper I co-authored on the topic for the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School called for: strict enforcement of the government purchase ban in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act; the State Department to lead a robust diplomatic effort to exclude Huawei overseas, a Section 232 investigation by the Commerce Department; a strategy to combat Chinese retaliation; and requiring Huawei and ZTE representatives to register as “foreign agents” under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
Additionally, in my view, the U.S. government should use every opportunity it has in dealing with any country or company with an interest in Huawei or ZTE to push back. We should take advantage of every leverage point we have to challenge Chinese telecommunications dominance.
For example, if Poland wants a permanent U.S. military presence, condition the agreement in part on keeping Huawei out. If a foreign-based company with Huawei equities wants to merge or acquire a U.S. company, condition approval in part on divestment of all Chinese telecommunications components. If a company wants an FCC license or needs any other federal approval, require scrapping Huawei and ZTE.
For years, we heard from the Chinese telecom giants via their paid representatives and apologists that there was nothing to the House Intelligence Committee’s damaging 2012 report that first called out Huawei and ZTE as a strategic threat to the United States. We heard it was filled with speculation and innuendo and there was nothing to see here. With this week’s specific, hard-hitting federal indictments, that argument has been taken away once and for all.
Now is the time for Western-valued countries and companies to lock arms and realize staying on the current path means the only option to run the backbone of the highly-connected, digital global economy of the not-so-distant future could be a Chinese one. If the U.S. government doesn’t harness every point of leverage it has to squeeze out Chinese telecommunications, that future may be unavoidable.
China’s effort to lead in strategic sectors like telecommunications is just one part of its long-planned expansionism focused on supplanting U.S. economic and security leadership around the world. For all of those who care about freedom, human rights, and America’s place in the world, standing up against the national security threat posed by Huawei and ZTE is a fight worth having.
Andy Keiser is a former senior adviser to the House Intelligence Committee and is a fellow at the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.
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