After the US government elicited outrage from the Chinese due to its attempts to convince its allies to bar the use of equipment made by telecoms supplier Huawei, President Trump is apparently weighing whether to take another dramatic antagonistic step that could further complicate trade negotiations less than two weeks before a US delegation is slated to head to Beijing.
According to Reuters, the White House is reportedly considering an executive order that would ban US companies from using equipment made by Huawei and ZTE, claiming that both companies work "at the behest of the US government" and that their equipment could be used to spy on US citizens. The order would invoke the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to order the Department of Commerce to prohibit the purchase of equipment from telecoms manufacturers that could threaten national security.
Though it wouldn't explicitly name Huawei or ZTE, the ban would arise from Commerce's interpretation. The IEEA allows the president the authority to regulate commerce in the face of a national emergency. Back in August, Congress passed and Trump signed a bill banning the use of ZTE and Huawei equipment by the US government and government contractors. The executive order has reportedly been under consideration for eight months, since around the time that the US nearly blocked US companies from selling parts to ZTE, which sparked a mini-diplomatic crisis, which ended with a deal allowing ZTE to survive, but pay a large fine.
The feud between the US and Huawei has obviously been escalating in recent months as the US has embarked on an "extraordinary influence campaign" to convince its allies to ban equipment made by both companies, and the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada has also blossomed into a diplomatic crisis of sorts.
But the real reason issuing a ban on both companies' equipment is seen as a priority is because Huawei's lead in the race to build 5G technology is making its products more appealing to global telecoms providers. Rural telecoms providers in the US - those with fewer than 100,000 subscribers - are particularly reliant on equipment made by both companies. They've expressed concerns that a ban would require them to rip out and scrap their equipment at an immense cost.
Rural operators in the United States are among the biggest customers of Huawei and ZTE, and fear the executive order would also require them to rip out existing Chinese-made equipment without compensation. Industry officials are divided on whether the administration could legally compel operators to do that.
While the big U.S. wireless companies have cut ties with Huawei in particular, small rural carriers have relied on Huawei and ZTE switches and other equipment because they tend to be less expensive.
The company is so central to small carriers that William Levy, vice president for sales of Huawei Tech USA, is on the board of directors of the Rural Wireless Association.
The RWA represents carriers with fewer than 100,000 subscribers. It estimates that 25 percent of its members had Huawei or ZTE equipment in their networks, it said in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission earlier this month.
As Sputnik pointed out, the news of the possible ban followed questions from Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson, who expressed serious concerns over the involvement of Huawei in Britain's 5G network, suggesting that Beijing sometimes acted "in a malign way." But even if it loses access to the US market, Huawei's global expansion and its leadership in the 5G space are expected to continue to bolster profits and growth. Currently, Huawei sells equipment in 170 countries.
According to a statement from the company's rotating chairman, the company's full-year sales are expected to increase 21% to $108.5 billion this year. The company has signed 26 contracts globally to supply 5G equipment for commercial use, leaving it well ahead of its US rivals.