National security concerns raised by Chinese tech firms including Huawei, one of the world's largest cellphone makers, have caused Congress members to quietly pressure AT&T towards cutting ties with that company and others, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Lawmakers lobbied AT&T to walk away this month from a deal to sell Huawei smartphones to U.S. customers, and companies with ties to Huawei and China Mobile, a state-run telecom and the world's largest mobile phone network operator, risk losing the ability to do business with the U.S. government if they don't distance themselves from either, congressional aides told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"The next wave of wireless communication has enormous economic and national security implications," said Michael Wessel, a member of the congressionally-established U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. "China's participation in setting the standards and selling the equipment raises many national security issues that demand strict and prompt attention," he told Reuters.
Last week, AT&T abruptly canceled plans to carry a Huawei smartphone, aborting what could have introduced potentially tens of millions of new Huawei devices into the U.S. market. Two Republican lawmakers, Rep. Michael Conaway of Texas and Liz Cheney of Wyoming, have since introduced legislation barring the U.S. government from doing business with either Huawei or ZTE Corp., another major Chinese electronics maker.
Lawmakers have separately urged AT&T to stop collaborating with Huawei over standards for the high-speed next generation 5G network, as well as the use of Huawei-made cellphones by Cricket, an AT&T subsidiary, Reuters reported.
Additionally AT&T is being asked to oppose plans to let China Mobile enter the U.S. market, calling into question the fate of the telecom's application before the Federal Communications Commission, the report said. China Mobile has wanted to do business in the U.S. since at 2011, but some lawmakers insist their introduction risks damaging national security as well, Reuters reported.
Neither AT&T, Huawei nor China Mobile commented for the report.
"We hope that China and the United States can work hard together to maintain the healthy and stable development of trade and business ties. This accords with the joint interests of both," said Lu Kang, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.
Chinese tech firms have frequently been accused of having ties to state intelligence, raising concerns that their products could be exploited for potentially international espionage purposes.
"Chinese commercial technology is a vehicle for the Chinese government to spy on United States federal agencies, posing a severe national security threat," Mr. Conaway said when he introduced his proposal banning certain foreign companies last week. "Allowing Huawei, ZTE, and other related entities access to US government communications would be inviting Chinese surveillance into all aspects of our lives."
Last year the Department of Homeland Security issued a directive banning federal agencies from using products made by Kaspersky Lab, a Russian software vendor, citing similar national security concerns. Subsequent reports suggested Russian state-sponsored hackers exploited Kaspersky antivirus software to steal classified documents from a U.S. government employee's home computer.
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