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Huawei ban: Trump extends executive order against China tech firms

The ban means that Huawei phones will not receive Google applications, or its coronavirus-tracing tech, for even longer

Adam Smith
Thursday 14 May 2020 09:40 BST
Huawei's production line partly relies on computer chips based on US technology
Huawei's production line partly relies on computer chips based on US technology (AFP/Getty)

The Trump administration has extended the executive order banning American businesses from working with companies that pose a national security risk, extending the muddled relationship between US enterprise and Chinese conglomerates such as smartphone maker Huawei and telecom equipment manufacturer ZTE.

The order, called the International Emergency Economic Powers Act which gives the president the authority to regulate commerce during a national emergency, was implemented in May 2019.

The result of the ban, which has now been extended until May 2021, means that Google cannot provide Huawei with access to Google Mobile Services and therefore popular apps such as Maps and YouTube are not available on Huawei phones.

Google Mobile Services are the commercial aspects to the Android platform that all major smartphones - apart from Apple's iPhones - use. It includes Google's apps and back-end services which powers other apps including Netflix and Citymapper. Huawei phones currently run on open-source Android, which does not have those services.

It also means that Huawei phones – which are available in the UK – cannot use Apple and Google’s contact tracing app because it uses Google Mobile Services.

Reasons for the ban are varied: the US government has claimed that it is for national security purposes after it alleged Huawei would use its technology to conduct espionage for China against US citizens. According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, the company could “maliciously modify or steal information,” and “conduct undetected espionage”, something Huawei has repeatedly denied.

However, others have said that the security arguments are a cover, and that Huawei is simply a pawn in the US-China trade war. President Trump has claimed that the dispute with could be resolved through trade talks.

Some officials have even voiced that the lack of evidence against Huawei being compromised by the Chinese government as evidence of the Chinese Communist Party’s intentions – as the government would not pressure Huawei until they were securely inside the United States’ 5G networks. “This is how China dominates. You move silently and quietly until you dominate—then you can launch an attack” one official reportedly said.

However, the U.S. Commerce Department is also expected to extend again a license, set to expire on Friday, allowing U.S. companies to keep doing business with Huawei in a more limited capacity, which was expected to expire 15 May. Before then, it had been extended to April 1. This is so Huawei can still provide equipment for its customers, such as those who operate wireless networks in rural America.

Wireless trade association CTIA urged the department to approve a “long-term” license extension, writing that “now is not the time to hamper global operators’ ability to maintain the health of the networks.”

The group argues that “ongoing, limited engagement with Huawei to protect the security of equipment and devices in the market benefits American consumers by reducing the risk that they will be subject to device compromise.”

It also asked Commerce to “reinstate and modify its prior authorization for standards development work to allow for exchanges with Huawei in furtherance of global telecommunications standards.”

As this is happening, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou remains in custody in Canada over allegations that she broke US sanctions against Iran by attempting to have Huawei-linked companies sell equipment to the country.

We have reached out to Huawei, ZTE, and the Commerce Department for comment.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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