The United States threatens to ban a Chinese telecom company on the US market

The United States has threatened to ban Beijing-controlled China Telecom on the US market because of the legal and security risks associated with its operations.

A recommendation from the relevant higher ministries, including the Ministry of Defense and Homeland Security, stated that the Federal Communications Commission should "cancel and terminate" all licenses of China Telecom (Americas), a subsidiary of the Chinese giant, to provide international telecommunications services to and from the United States.

"The executive branch agencies have identified significant and unacceptable risks related to national security and law enforcement associated with China Telecom operations, which makes FCC licenses inconsistent with the public interest," the Justice Department said in a statement Thursday.

If the recommendation is approved, this means that customers of the company, the second largest mobile operator in China, may lose contact with or through the United States.

The agencies that made the recommendation, which also included the Justice Department, the Commerce Department, and the US Trade Representative, said China Telecom was vulnerable to "exploitation, influence and control" by Beijing.

The agencies also made the recommendation based on "the nature of China Telecom's operations in the United States", which they said would allow Chinese government agencies "to engage in malicious online activity that allows economic espionage, confusion, and misdirection of US communications."

The FCC is the agency in charge of deciding on the recommendation, but it is almost certain that the decision will involve the White House, as it can be used in the context of ongoing trade negotiations with Beijing.

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it "strongly opposes" the recommendation.

"We urge the United States to adhere to market principles, stop its wrong practices of using national security as an excuse and politicize commercial matters, as well as stop unfairly suppressing Chinese companies," said spokesman Zhao Legian.

The recommendation came just five days after President Donald Trump's administration formed an inter-ministerial body to review national security concerns related to foreign telecom companies operating in the United States.

In September 2019, two senators, Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Tom Cotton, asked the FCC to consider banning China Telecom and China Unicom from the US market due to national security concerns.

Thursday's statement did not specifically explain what China Telecom had done to issue a recommendation to ban it.

She said that the company incorrectly informed the US authorities about where their US records are stored and how they manage cyber security.

She also mentioned in particular the commitment of China Telecom in 2007 to the Ministry of Justice, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security, to provide all law enforcement agencies with access to their work records in the United States, and to cooperate with any investigations and not to disclose them.

And US national security officials recently showed growing caution toward Chinese and technology operators.

Washington prevented the Chinese giant Huawei, the world's largest provider of communications equipment and a pioneer in new 5G technology, from supplying US government systems and recommended the private sector not to use them either.

US intelligence agencies believe that Huawei devices could be used by Chinese intelligence, and Washington has pressed its Western allies to find other suppliers of the latest technology in the telecommunications sector.

The US Department of Justice has also issued indictments against a number of Chinese who have accused them of participating in piracy and theft of trade secrets under the auspices of the Chinese government.


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