President Trump has issued an executive order giving his administration sweeping powers to block Huawei and other foreign communications firms from doing business in the United States.
The White House said the president was taking the action to “protect America from foreign adversaries who are actively and increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology infrastructure and services in the United States.”
Trump’s directive does not name any company from China or any other country, and senior administration officials, in a press call, would not talk about Huawei or any specific firm.
But the order was widely understood as one that targets Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer, which has been in the crosshairs of America’s security and intelligence agencies.
For months, U.S. officials have waged an aggressive campaign to restrain Huawei’s global expansion as a leading supplier of the next-generation 5G wireless networks. They have argued that using Huawei equipment poses risks of Chinese espionage or sabotage.
Top Huawei executives have vehemently denied they would allow the Chinese government to use their products for surveillance.
With trade talks at an impasse since Friday, Trump signed an order that was prepared months ago. Although officials would not attribute the timing to any specific factor, its release came amid an intensifying standoff between Washington and Beijing and immediately added a new level of friction.
Declaring the problem of foreign adversaries seeking to exploit technological risks to be a national emergency, Trump’s order formalises what was a de facto ban on Huawei in U.S. markets in recent years as the Pentagon and Congress made moves to discourage its growth.
Few Americans own Huawei cellphones and only a small number of local U.S. telecom service providers in rural areas have Huawei gear in their systems. Even so, many in the U.S. intelligence community sought an official ban from the White House, saying it would make the dangers clear and help the administration’s efforts — so far only partly successful — to persuade key allies to shun Huawei.
The executive order authorises the Commerce Department, with the consultation of other agencies, to block U.S. businesses from transactions of information and communications technology or services from a “foreign adversary” that poses an “unacceptable risk” to U.S. national security.
Officials said the Commerce Department would have 150 days to develop implementation rules, although interim procedures are expected.
The Commerce Department rules would be retroactive to the date of Trump’s executive order.
Under existing law, the U.S. government can block foreign firms from acquiring American technology firms, and with China in mind, Congress recently expanded this authority. Trump’s order significantly adds to the government’s toolbox.
Although U.S. officials have offered no public evidence of malicious code or so-called back doors in Huawei equipment, they argue that its products can’t be trusted because Beijing could at any time order Chinese companies to do its bidding.