World

Biden team sees Huawei as a threat and wants to talk to allies

The new Biden administration sees Huawei as a national-security threat and wants to discuss the issue with allies. Answers from the nominee for commerce secretary make clear the pressure on Canada to develop a policy on the Chinese telecom company will not relent with the change in U.S. administration.

Biden's pick for commerce secretary addressed several Canada-U.S. issues in confirmation process

The new Biden administration says it sees no reason to remove Huawei from the U.S. entity list, which restricts the company's access to items produced from U.S. technology and software (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians.

What's new

The U.S. has a different administration, with the same view on Huawei: The Biden administration considers the Chinese telecom giant to be a national-security threat that will require international co-operation with allies.

That view was made clear in the release of written statements from President Joe Biden's pick for commerce secretary, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.

As part of her Senate confirmation process, Raimondo was pressed to deliver answers in writing to Republicans demanding clarity on her policies regarding Huawei.

She replied that she sees no reason to remove it and other Chinese tech companies from a U.S. restrictions list; said she did not want untrusted Chinese companies in American networks; and planned to work with allied countries on the issue.

"With respect to Huawei, let me be clear: telecommunications equipment made by untrusted vendors is a threat to the security of the U.S. and our allies," she said in response to a written question from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. 

"We will ensure that American telecommunications networks do not use equipment from untrusted vendors and will work with allies to secure their telecommunications networks and make investments to expand the production of telecommunications equipment by trusted U.S. and allied companies. 

"In addition, Huawei's ties to China's military, human right abuses, and theft of intellectual property have rightly been a source of bipartisan concern, regulatory action, and legislation in the United States and among U.S. partners and allies."

How it affects Canada

This exchange makes clear Canada still faces pressure to take a stand on Huawei following the change in U.S. administration.

Canada is the only allied Five Eyes country without a formal policy to ban or restrict Huawei from the next-generation 5G network.  

Gov. Gina Raimondo, Biden's pick for commerce secretary, is seen here meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his 2017 visit to her state of Rhode Island. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The Trudeau Liberals have held off on any public announcement of a 5G policy, even after the House of Commons passed a motion last year demanding clarity within 30 days.

The issue carries a variety of implications — national security; commercial; and diplomatic, given current tensions between Canada and China, where two Canadians are currently imprisoned on espionage charges.

Amid the public silence from Ottawa, some major Canadian telecoms companies have already said they will simply exclude Huawei from their 5G network. They have also warned, however, that a formal ban could require a costly removal of older equipment and have suggested they would demand compensation from the Canadian government.

What's Huawei saying

In response, the China-based company said it's being unfairly maligned, and said politically motivated attacks risk hurting global trade and supply chains. 

"If there is clear evidence of Huawei's malfeasances, why are people so reluctant to table them," Morgan Elliot, vice-president for government affairs of Huawei Canada, said in a statement.

"No other company is disparaged or slandered like Huawei continues to be, every day in the media by politicians and others. These actions are not based on fact, nor evidence of wrongdoing, but on fear-mongering, protectionism, and the promotion of a narrative that helps U.S. based companies play catchup."

What's next

Raimondo offered less clarity on another issue of major international attention: steel and aluminum tariffs.

She was asked several times for an opinion on the Trump administration's aggressive use of tariffs on the grounds of national security; she said the new administration was reviewing past tariff policies. 

Raimondo was non-committal on whether steel and aluminum tariffs would change. Canada had its own tariffs removed, but in the final weeks of the Trump administration was told they could be re-imposed in the event of a surge in Canadian metals exports to the U.S.

Michael Kovrig, left, and Michael Spavor, right, were arrested by China in the wake of charges against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, and remain detained. (The Canadian Press, The Associated Press)

She was clearer when asked about the ongoing softwood-lumber dispute with Canada, which faces duties on lumber exports to the U.S.

Raimondo said she would vigorously enforce U.S. trade laws, including the duties on Canada, which has been accused for decades by the U.S. — and has denied — that it unfairly subsidizes producers of lumber and exports it at below-market prices.

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