A trio of Republican senators called on President Biden’s nominee for commerce secretary to promise to keep Chinese Communist Party-linked telecom giant Huawei on the U.S. trade blacklist after the Trump administration deemed it a national security threat.
Gina Raimondo, the Democratic governor of Rhode Island, often took a strong rhetorical stance on China throughout her confirmation hearing on Tuesday but declined to promise that Huawei would remain on the Commerce Department’s “entities list.”
Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Ben Sasse sent her a letter Friday because “the Department of Commerce plays an increasingly important role in protecting national security and preventing the People’s Republic of China from exploiting U.S. technology to further the goals of the Chinese Communist Party,” they wrote. The Republicans stressed that Huawei “has a long track record of economic espionage, supporting human rights abuses in the PRC and elsewhere, and supporting the regime’s capture of foreign political elites” and it “has not changed alongside the U.S. presidency.”
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz noted Tuesday that a number of Chinese companies, including Huawei, had been added to the entities list, in part for their role in China’s surveillance of its Uighur Muslim population, and asked Raimondo if she would commit to keeping those companies on the blacklist. When pressed about Huawei, she said, “I will review the policy, consult with you, consult with industry, consult with our allies, and make an assessment as to what’s best for American national and economic security.”
Raimondo did say later in her testimony that she would use the “full tool kit at my disposal to the fullest extent possible to protect Americans and our network from Chinese interference or any kind of backdoor influence into our network” — and named Huawei as a specific concern.
The Commerce Department explained in December that Huawei was added to the entity list in May 2019 because the company and its affiliates “engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.” The Bureau of Industry and Security amended its foreign-produced direct product rule in May 2020 to “target Huawei’s acquisition of semiconductors that are the direct product of certain U.S. software and technology” and in August announced a broader rule which further restricted Huawei.
The Trump administration engaged in an all-out effort to limit Huawei’s global reach, especially in the area of fifth-generation wireless, pushing its “Five Eyes” international partners to reject Huawei technology in their communications networks. The Justice Department charged the Chinese telecommunications giant with racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets worldwide, and last summer, the Defense Department released a list of companies operating in the United States that the Pentagon believes are tied to the Chinese military — including Huawei.
“The CCP is already taking action to test whether President Biden’s administration will carry on the campaign to level the playing field for American businesses, counter malign actors like Huawei, and keep pressure on technological chokepoints,” Rubio, Cotton, and Sasse wrote, adding, “We ask that you respond in writing with your view of whether you foresee any scenario in which you would, if confirmed as Secretary, either remove Huawei, or its subsidiaries, or spin-off companies from the Entity List (or expand any related general licenses), or, would permit any relaxation of the Foreign Direct Product Rule as it relates to 5G technology.”
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