US bans Chinese telecom devices, citing ‘national security’

US Federal Communications Commission decision includes devices from Huawei, ZTE and other manufacturers.

People file past a stall advertising Huawei at the PT Expo in Beijing
Chinese tech giant Huawei was one of the companies identified in Friday’s FCC report prohibiting communications equipment said to pose a risk to US national security [File: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo]

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced it is banning telecommunications and video surveillance equipment from prominent Chinese brands, including Huawei and ZTE, citing an “unacceptable risk to national security”.

The five-member FCC said on Friday it had voted unanimously to adopt new rules that will block the importation or sale of the targeted products.

“Our unanimous decision represents the first time in the FCC’s history that we have voted to prohibit the authorization of communications and electronic equipment based on national security considerations,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a statement on Friday.

He added that the move had “broad, bipartisan backing” among the US congressional leadership.

US security officials have warned that equipment from Chinese brands such as Huawei could be used to interfere with fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks and collect sensitive information.

The ban is the latest move in a years-long push “to keep US networks secure” by identifying and prohibiting devices deemed to be security threats, the FCC said.

Friday’s initiative also includes a ban on Hytera Communications, the Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company and the Dahua Technology Company.

Huawei declined to provide comment to the Reuters news agency. ZTE, Dahua, Hikvision and Hytera did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Huawei and the Chinese government have long denied allegations of espionage and denounced US sanctions against Chinese technologies.

But in 2019, then-US President Donald Trump signed into law the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, which established criteria to identify communications services Washington deemed could pose a risk to national security.

The services that were designated threats under that law were then subject to the Secure Equipment Act of 2021, signed by President Joe Biden.

That act created the groundwork for Friday’s announcement. It directed the FCC to “adopt rules clarifying that it will no longer review or issue new equipment licenses” to those companies.

At the time, Florida Senator Marco Rubio hailed Biden’s decision.

“The Chinese Communist Party will stop at nothing to exploit our laws and undermine our national security,” he said in a statement. “This legislation fixes a dangerous loophole in our law, curtailing their efforts to worm their way into our telecommunications networks.”

One of the largest manufacturers of telecommunications equipment in the world, Huawei has had an embattled relationship with the US and its allies, facing some of the heaviest sanctions ever placed on a single company in the US.

Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested and detained for nearly three years in Canada following allegations by the US Justice Department that she attempted to violate sanctions by trying to conduct business dealings with Iran.

She was indicted on bank and wire fraud charges and faced US extradition proceedings in a Canadian court, sparking a diplomatic crisis between Canada, the US and China. Meng was released and returned to China in 2021.

Earlier this year, Canada joined the US in banning Huawei from 5G wireless networks.

Another FCC commissioner, Geoffrey Starks, described Friday’s ban as a preventive measure that would pay dividends in the future.

“By stopping equipment identified as a threat to the United States from entering our markets, we significantly decrease the risk that it can be used against us,” Starks said in a statement. “We also lower the possibility that we’ll need to rip and replace that equipment in the future. Ultimately, if it can’t get authorized, it can’t be deployed.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies