Huawei challenges its designation as a threat to US security

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Huawei has asked a US court to overturn a Federal Communications Commission ruling that the Chinese telecoms equipment maker poses a security threat to the country because of alleged ties to the Chinese military.

Huawei argued in a filing with the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals that the FCC designation, which barred companies from using government money to procure its products, violated the US constitution.

The Shenzhen-based company described the agency’s ruling as “arbitrary, capricious . . . and not supported by substantial evidence”.

The FCC decision was one of several actions taken by the administration of Donald Trump against the Chinese telecoms group over concerns that it could help Beijing conduct espionage.

Huawei denies that it has any connections to the Chinese government or the security and military apparatus. But US national security experts dispute its claims and argue that the company is susceptible to pressure from Beijing.

Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, called on the Biden administration to have a “more open” policy towards Chinese companies at a media briefing on Tuesday. “We hope the US government will have a more open policy for the benefit of American companies and the development of the US economy,” Ren said.

Responding to the Huawei lawsuit, the FCC said it had a “substantial body of evidence” about the threat from Huawei and would defend its designation.

Under the Trump administration, the US commerce department placed Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecoms equipment maker, on the “entity list” — a blacklist that requires US companies to obtain licenses to sell any kind of technology to the Chinese companies and their affiliates.

It also implemented measures to make it harder for Huawei to buy products, such as semiconductors, that were manufactured with American technology.

The move against Huawei was part of a broad push to take a tougher stance towards China over national security. Mike Pompeo, then secretary of state, led a campaign to persuade US allies, including the UK, to prevent the company from having any role in their high-speed 5G networks.

The administration of Joe Biden has signalled that it will also take a hawkish approach to China over everything from its behaviour in the South China Sea to its repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province.

In a sign that US-China tensions will not ease under the Biden administration, Antony Blinken, secretary of state, last week used his first conversation with his Chinese counterpart to warn Beijing that Washington would hold it to account for its “abuses” and repressive behaviour.

The new administration has been less clear on Huawei, however. Gina Raimondo, the nominee for commerce secretary, drew criticism from Republicans when she refused to commit to keeping the company on the entity list during her confirmation hearing.

Raimondo later clarified her position to say that she saw “no reason” to remove any of the companies on the US entity list. But her original response spurred Republican Senator Ted Cruz to put a hold on her nomination.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, later said the administration would not allow “untrusted vendors, including Huawei” to be involved with US telecoms networks because they posed a threat to security. 

The commerce department has also come under scrutiny over concerns that Biden could choose someone who is not sufficiently tough on China to run the Bureau of Industry and Security, a role overseeing export controls that has become increasingly critical as the US tries to stop China from obtaining sensitive technology. 

Additional reporting by Tom Mitchell in Singapore

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi

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