Nation & World

Graham, Feinstein echo Trump’s warning on China as telecom risk

U.S. senators warned allies that Chinese telecommunications companies such as Huawei Technologies Co. can't meet security standards for advanced networks due in part to Chinese law that demands cooperation with security agencies.

"There is no way in hell China can meet those criteria because of the way they're governed," Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a hearing of the panel. "The only way China can meet the criteria is to stop being China."

Graham said allies should know they'll lose access to American information and technology if they buy Chinese equipment.

The Trump administration is pressing other governments to exclude gear made by Huawei from super-fast 5G mobile networks that will connect billions of devices, including autonomous cars and robotic factories. But the campaign is finding little success: so far no European country has barred the Chinese supplier.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission rejected China Mobile Ltd.'s bid to provide phone service in the U.S., citing national security concerns about the company controlled by Beijing. The move added friction to fraught trade relations that have erupted into a tit-for-tat of tariffs between the world's biggest economies.

Lawmakers have increased their focus on Chinese telecommunications providers in recent months.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the leading Democrat on Judiciary Committee, cited Chinese law and said that Huawei has been "very assertive." She said there had been "importunings" without offering details, and said "it could make our country incredibly vulnerable and we cannot let China do this."

The U.S. is urging allies to analyze risk before buying gear, Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary for cyber policy at the State Department, told the committee.

Criteria include "the extent to which vendors are subject to control by a foreign government" with power to compel cooperation with intelligence and security agencies, Strayer said in testimony submitted to the committee.

Strayer said U.S. diplomacy on the issue had made progress. "Through our engagements, many other countries are now acknowledging the supply chain risk," he said.

The U.S. says Chinese law compels Huawei to cooperate with Beijing's espionage agencies. U.S. officials fear Huawei can build vulnerabilities, or backdoors, into equipment to enable spying by the Chinese government.

Huawei has said that governments and customers in 170 countries use its equipment, which poses no greater cybersecurity threat than that of any communications technology vendor. Huawei's rotating chairman, Guo Ping, said in a February opinion piece that the fusillade against Huawei results from Washington's realization that the U.S. has fallen behind in developing 5G technology, and has little to do with security.

Senator Chris Coons, speaking at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he was concerned that China's expansive "belt and road" initiative might also at some point include telecommunications involving 5G technology, expanding the reach of Chinese technology companies such as Huawei.

"The belt and road initiative may become a belt, road, cell phone initiative," said Coons, a Delaware Democrat. "I don't think the U.S. has fully grasped the extent to which even our core allies – a G7 country like Italy, a core ally like the United Kingdom – are differing from us in our assessment of the intelligence threat of having Huawei integrated into the telecommunications systems of the coming decades."

"I think we have a real challenge on our hands," he said.

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