President Biden’s nominee to lead the Commerce Department would not commit to keeping Huawei on the U.S. entities blacklist after the Trump administration deemed the Chinese telecom company a national security threat and sought to limit its sway worldwide and its access to U.S. markets.
Gina Raimondo, the Democratic governor of Rhode Island, often took a strong rhetorical stance on China throughout her Tuesday confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, but she declined to promise that Huawei would remain on the Commerce Department’s “entities list” for companies deemed to be national security threats.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki emphasized Monday that “strategic patience” in the Biden administration’s interagency review process and its outreach to Republicans, Democrats, and global allies about its China strategy. Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe argued on Monday that the U.S. stance toward China needed action, not patience. Raimondo repeatedly emphasized the Biden administration was conducting a broad review on how to approach China.
Sen. Ted Cruz noted a number of Chinese companies, including Huawei, had been added to the Bureau of Industry and Security’s entities list for their role in the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance of its Uighur Muslim population.
Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Chinese government’s abuses a genocide, and Biden agrees. The Texas Republican asked Raimondo if she would commit to keeping those companies on the blacklist, and she replied only that “I will commit to working with you on that, and I certainly agree with you that the entities list is a powerful tool in the commerce secretary’s tool kit to shore up American national security.”
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.”
“Well, I will say that there is chatter in Washington that the Biden administration is contemplating going easy on China and removing companies from the entities list — I certainly hope that does not happen, because I think that would be profoundly contrary to the national security interest of the United States,” Cruz replied.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska was even more blunt, releasing a statement saying, “This is ridiculous: Huawei didn’t change because America has a new President. Huawei is still the Chinese Communist Party’s tech puppet and a serious threat to national security.”
The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security added Huawei to the designated entities list in 2019, restricting Huawei’s ability to use U.S. technology and software to design and manufacture its semiconductors. The same year, the FCC designated Huawei a “national security threat” and blocked wireless providers from using federal subsidies to purchase any equipment or services from the Chinese technology company.
The Trump administration engaged in an all-out effort to limit Huawei’s global reach, especially in the area of fifth-generation wireless, or 5G, pushing its “Five Eyes” partners to reject Huawei technology in their communications networks, viewing Huawei technology as a national security threat. 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 U.S. that the Pentagon believes are tied to the Chinese military — including Huawei.
Sen. Deb Fischer also pressed Raimondo about Huawei, asking her to “explain your perspective on the national security risks regarding the Chinese equipment suppliers to our communication networks” — particularly with regard to Huawei.
“National security has to come first, obviously. And with respect to 5G … there’s an opportunity to move forward in 5G and create great innovation and jobs, but we can’t have the Chinese, or really anyone, having a backdoor into our network and compromising in any way our national or economic security,” Raimondo said. “And so as commerce secretary, should I be confirmed, I will 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 that’s Huawei, ZTE, or any other company.”
Raimondo said the U.S. must “take aggressive trade enforcement actions to combat unfair trade practices from China and other nations that undercut American manufacturing” during her opening statement, though she contended to Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida that “climate change is probably the greatest threat we face.”
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