Trump Order Restricting Huawei Sharpens U.S. Lawmakers’ Focus on China

(Bloomberg) -- The House Intelligence Committee plans to examine potential security threats from Chinese telecommunications companies such as Huawei Technologies Co., amid Republican complaints that Democrats are moving too slowly.

The partisan finger-pointing on Thursday came a day after President Donald Trump signed an order that’s expected to restrict Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE Corp., from selling their equipment in the U.S. In addition, the Department of Commerce said it put Huawei on a blacklist that could forbid it from doing business with American companies.

During a House Intelligence hearing, top Republican Devin Nunes -- chairman of the panel until January -- accused Democrats of focusing too much on allegations of collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, rather than on “the true array” of threats to the U.S. from Beijing and other bad actors worldwide.

At the same hearing, committee Chairman Adam Schiff said that the panel was starting “a deep dive” investigation into how China wields its power in technology and telecommunications, supply chains, foreign expansion, surveillance and so-called digital autocracy. Some of the work will be done behind closed doors because of the sensitive or classified nature of the information, he said.

In the Senate, Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Trump had taken a “positive first step” Wednesday in escalating the battle over critical 5G wireless networks, which are expected to form the backbone of the modern economy.

“Huawei and ZTE have repeatedly broken the law and endangered our national security,” Blumenthal said in a statement. He contended that “Congress has long been clear-eyed” about the security threat those companies pose.

Also see: Trump Moves to Curb Huawei as Trade War With China Escalates

“Only President Trump has dragged his feet, resisting bipartisan cyber security efforts and undermining past attempts to hold ZTE accountable,” Blumenthal said. Trump’s executive order and the Commerce designation “will only be worth the paper it’s printed on until it’s acted on,” he added.

California’s Schiff, in announcing the House Intelligence panel’s probe, raised concerns about China’s “coupling of innovation and authoritarianism,” and whether that governing formula may be taking hold elsewhere.

He pointed to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that said Huawei’s “safe cities” technology has been installed in at least 46 countries. The report said the system links round-the-clock surveillance with command and control centers, facial and license plate recognition technologies, data labs, and intelligence fusion capabilities. Schiff didn’t specify which countries are using the technology.

“The export of this technology gives countries the technological tools they need to emulate Beijing’s model of social and political control,” Schiff said. “This unacceptable. We cannot -- and should not -- stand by as civil liberties and privacy protection are degraded en masse.”

Nunes’ Complaint

Nunes noted that the Intelligence committee’s views on Huawei and ZTE -- and additional information about the Chinese threat -- were reflected in a 2012 report from the panel, and in another in 2018 entitled “Committee’s Review on China’s Malign Activities and the Intelligence.”

But he also complained that Democrats focused “disproportionate attention” on allegations against Trump during the previous session of Congress.

Nunes of California, committee chairman when Republicans controlled the House, said, “I hope in this Congress, the committee will pay appropriate attention to the true array of threats emanating from Beijing and other bad actors worldwide.”

As he spoke, the lights in the hearing roomed suddenly dimmed. “I think Huawei installed the lights in here,” Nunes quipped in a brief moment of levity.

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