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New law aims to block China from spying on U.S. telecommunications networks

by Ace Damon
New law aims to block China from spying on U.S. telecommunications networks

President Trump on Tuesday signed a new law that aims to prevent China from penetrating American telecommunications networks for electronic espionage and data collection.

The law requires the formulation of a national strategy to protect the next generation of 5G telecommunications equipment, amid fears that Chinese companies have taken a lead in the market.

"The strategy will protect the American people from threats to the security of telecommunications networks and 5G technology," Trump said in a statement.

The move is the latest effort by the U.S. government to prevent Chinese telecommunications companies like Huawei Technologies Ltd. and ZTE from entering the U.S. market. The authorities fear that China may use its equipment for spying and data collection through "rear doors" on Huawei's equipment.

In January, the president signed a law banning telecom operators from using U.S. subsidiaries to buy equipment from Huawei and ZTE. That law also urged the Federal Communications Commission to fund the removal of all Chinese telecommunications equipment from rural American suppliers – including some that serve US nuclear missile bases in the West.

The federal government is providing $ 1 billion to replace Chinese equipment.

The bill signed on Tuesday was passed by the Senate this month and by the House in January with bipartisan support.

The law requires "maximizing" the security of 5G systems, infrastructure and software. The US urges European and Asian allies – with mixed success – not to allow Huawei to help build its new national 5G networks.

American intelligence officials said Huawei and other companies are required by Chinese law to provide Chinese intelligence services with access to their equipment. China granted Huawei a $ 100 billion credit line to finance its global expansion.

Both Huawei and the Chinese government have denied claims that the company poses a security risk. Huawei is the largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment in the world and its only main rivals are European companies Ericsson and Nokia.

In May, Trump targeted Huawei with an executive order and export controls from the Commerce Department. The new law does not require the nationalization of infrastructure or 5G systems, a proposal contemplated by the White House shortly after Trump's inauguration.

Some security experts say government intervention is the only way to prevent China from cornering the market in 5G systems, given the company's price competitiveness and government support in Beijing. Huawei also has a deep relationship with countries around the world from its work on previous 4G telecommunications networks.

"I am very concerned about Huawei and other Chinese technologies," said Defense Secretary Mark Esper in testimony at the congress earlier this month. "I think we need to pay close attention to our export controls – Chinese technology in general, Huawei specifically – and I think we need to be very aware of Chinese technology in our system."

But there have been reports of Pentagon opposition to Commerce Department regulations that restrict the purchase of Chinese equipment.

"I need to balance the equation and make sure we understand our own technology companies, making sure we have access to that, too," Esper told lawmakers.

Huawei sued the U.S. government for banning its products under a 2019 defense authorization law that prohibits the federal government from doing business with Huawei, ZTE or any supplier linked to the Chinese. A Texas federal judge last month ruled against Huawei's challenge to that law.

Retired Air Force Brigadier. General Robert Spalding, a former White House National Security Council official, warned in a January 2018 memo that the United States was losing the 5G race to China and that the technology will be a major battleground for competition USA-China.

General Spalding called for a joint "private" effort by the US government to build a 5G system in three years.

"You need to consider 5G as part of a long-term campaign for China's dominance of information technology and command, control, communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance against the free world," he said.

But the general said the new legislation signed by Trump on Tuesday does not have much news.

"We will have to see how it is implemented," he said.

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