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US Firms May Get Nod to Restart New Sales as Trump Releases Restrictions on Huawei

The United States has pending cases against Huawei for allegedly stealing American intellectual property and violating Iran sanctions

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Huawei builds first-ever 5G network in Europe. VOA

The U.S. may approve licenses for companies to restart new sales to Huawei in as little as two weeks, according to a senior U.S. official, in a sign President Donald Trump’s recent effort to ease restrictions on the Chinese company could move forward quickly.

Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, was added to a Commerce Department list in May that prohibits U.S. companies from supplying it with new American-made goods and services unless they obtain licenses that will likely be denied.

But late last month, after meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, President Donald Trump announced American firms could sell products to Huawei. And in recent days, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said licenses would be issued where there is no threat to national security.

Chip industry, China pressure

Trump’s reversal, and rapid implementation by the Commerce Department, suggests chip industry lobbying, coupled with Chinese political pressure, may well reignite U.S. technology sales to Huawei.

Two U.S. chipmakers who supply Huawei told Reuters in recent days they would apply for more licenses after Ross’s comments. They asked to remain anonymous. A customer response management company and a firm that simulates cross-sectional radar for Huawei are also likely to file applications in the coming days, according to Craig Ridgley, a trade compliance consultant in Washington.

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People walk past a Huawei retail store in Beijing, June 30, 2019. VOA

Out of $70 billion that Huawei spent buying components in 2018, about $11 billion went to U.S. firms, including Qualcomm, Intel and Micron Technology. “Since there’s no downside, companies are absolutely submitting applications, as required by the regulations,” said Washington lawyer Kevin Wolf, a former Commerce Department official.

A Huawei spokesman said “the Entity list restrictions should be removed altogether, rather than have temporary licenses applied for US vendors. Huawei has been found guilty of no relevant wrongdoing and represents no cybersecurity risk to any country so the restrictions are unmerited.”

Not all sales need OK

U.S. companies can currently sell goods in order to maintain existing networks and provide software updates to existing Huawei handsets, but are prohibited from making new sales of American-made goods and services.

Furthermore, not all U.S. sales to Huawei hinge on government approvals of license requests. Some U.S. chipmakers’ sales to Huawei may not need licenses because their products could be beyond the scope of U.S. export controls since many are manufactured abroad with few U.S. components.

U.S. officials have sought to clarify the new policy in recent weeks, saying they will allow sales of non-sensitive technology readily available abroad if national security is protected. But they have also reiterated that Huawei remains on the entity list, and relief would be temporary.

The U.S. semiconductor industry has been lobbying for broader relief, arguing that U.S. security goals should be advanced in a way that does not undermine the ability to compete globally and retain technological leadership.

Suppliers want to be allowed to provide customer service support for chips they build and sell overseas, or the approval to ship new American-made equipment to Huawei and its subsidiaries around the world.

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FILE – A man uses two smartphones at once outside a Huawei store in Beijing, May 20, 2019. VOA

Chip suppliers unclear

Still, it is unclear which products will be granted licenses. Some U.S. suppliers sought clarity at a conference the Commerce Department held in Washington this week. One manufacturer’s representative was told by the senior U.S. official that licenses could be granted in two to four weeks at the conference on Thursday.

The person, who did not want to be identified, said the official did not delineate the criteria for license approvals, but she came away believing they would be made on a case-by-case basis, at least at first, as the agency seeks to form more broad opinions.

When asked about the guidance from the senior official, a Commerce Department spokesman said the agency is “currently evaluating all licenses and determining what is in the nation’s best national security interest.”

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The United States has pending cases against Huawei for allegedly stealing American intellectual property and violating Iran sanctions. It also has launched a lobbying effort to persuade U.S. allies to keep Huawei out of next-generation 5G telecommunications infrastructure, citing concerns the company could spy on customers. Huawei has denied the allegations.

Eric Hirschhorn, a former undersecretary of Commerce, said the problem for government officials now reviewing the licenses is that they don’t know where the administration is going. “The policy two minutes ago may not be the policy two minutes from now,” Hirschhorn said. (VOA)

Next Story

Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei: Company Can Withstand Increased US Pressure

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos that he expects the U.S. to escalate its crackdown on Huawei.

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A Huawei company logo at Shenzhen International Airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China. VOA

By Joyce Huang

Despite the U.S.-China trade deal signed last week, the two countries appear headed for more confrontation, especially over high science and technology.

One of China’s highest-profile tech executives, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday that he expects the U.S. to escalate its crackdown on Huawei. But he vowed that the world leader in building 5G networks is prepared to withstand further restrictions on its foreign markets and suppliers.

Analysts say his remarks suggest that the Chinese may be ready to directly confront Americans in the global competition for high-tech advancements, which are seen at the core of trade frictions.

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Ren Zhengfei, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Huawei Technologies gestures during a session at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

Tech war is on

“He [Ren] is fully aware that the tech competition between the U.S. and China will escalate. The U.S. has no plan to cut China some slack simply because they have just signed the Phase 1 deal. Both are now entering the battleground of their tech disputes,” said Lin Tsung-nan, professor of electrical engineering at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Beijing’s critics say Huawei acts as a virtual arm of the Chinese government, benefitting from favorable policies and funding that have sped its expansion around the world. They warn countries that allow Huawei to build their new wireless data networks that they are giving Beijing’s authoritarian government enormous influence over their security. Instead, U.S. officials argue, countries should trust American, European, Korean and other companies.

Provisions in the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement aim to root out Chinese state policies that encourage intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. However the deal leaves open questions about enforcement. Many, including Huawei chief Ren, remain skeptical that the countries will reach an agreement on such issues.

Speaking to the audience in Davos, Ren said he believes the United States will escalate its crackdown on Huawei, but that the impact will be minimal as the company has adapted to restrictions imposed since last year.

Huawei and its 46 affiliates were targeted in 2019 after the U.S. government concluded that the company has long engaged in activities contrary to U.S. national security. Ren’s daughter, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, is fighting an extradition case in Canada stemming from allegations she committed fraud by lying about Huawei’s relationship with an affiliate doing business in Iran.

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Richard Yu (Yu Chengdong), head of Huawei’s consumer business Group, speaks on stage during a presentation to reveal Huawei’s latest smartphones “Mate 30” and “Mate 30 Pro” in Munich, southern Germany. VOA

Huawei’s Plan B

Analysts have mixed views about the long-term impact of the blacklisting on Huawei. Ren said he is optimistic because Huawei has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in its own core technology over the past few years, including chips and software. Last year, the company released its own operating system, called HarmonyOS, though, so far, it hasn’t been installed in any of the company’s smartphones.

It has also released a flagship smartphone, the Mate 30, without licensed Google Android software. Sales in China have been in line with expectations, although its global sales target of 20 million units is yet to be met.

But Professor Lin said the ultimate challenge facing Huawei lies ahead.

“The real test will come after the U.S. completely cuts off [Huawei’s] access to American technology and relevant exchanges. Huawei will then have to prove if its products, manufactured based on its so-called plan B, will continue to be competitive in overseas markets,” the professor said.

More tech restrictions

After having restricted Huawei’s access to American technology, the United States is reportedly looking to introduce a stricter rule that could block Huawei’s access to an increased number of foreign-made goods.

Media reports said the United States plans, among other things, to force Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, to limit its supplies of 14 nanometer chips to Huawei.

Washington is also lobbying other countries, such as Britain and Germany, to bar Huawei — which it accuses of spying for the Chinese government — from the buildup of their next-generation mobile networks known as 5G.

Whether U.S. allies will be persuaded to block Huawei from building their 5G networks remains uncertain, but Lin said the stakes in the standoff are clear.

“If China succeeds in using Huawei to dominate [the global 5G network], the free world will gradually fall into China’s high-tech iron curtain. That’s why the U.S. has turned aggressive in blocking Huawei, which has strived after having had copied code from Cisco’s [router software] technology a decade ago,” Lin said.

Escalating tensions

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Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her Vancouver home with her security detail for an extradition hearing in British Columbia Supreme Court. VOA

Song Hong at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said he’s worried the U.S. may widen its target to include more Chinese tech firms.

But he said Beijing is adapting to the new reality by gradually cutting its dependence on the U.S. technology.

“China has greatly strengthened its tech capabilities. I think Huawei’s [Ren] speaks on behalf of most Chinese businesses. That is, if you try to block me, I have no choice but to work to find other solutions,” he said.

An executive from China’s tech sector, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity, said he’s not worried that the U.S.-China tech war will escalate. But he said China should respond to U.S. concerns.

“The U.S. has made a great contribution [to the world’s tech development] and now come up with some requests. I find that reasonable, right? I think China, as a responsible country, should respect and communicate well [with the U.S.] on a reasonable basis,” he said.

Warning from Meng’s case

While tech executives look at how the long-term competition between the two countries will play out, the fate of Meng — the daughter of Huawei’s founder — will impact relations in the short term. Canada has begun week-long court hearings to determine whether to extradite Meng to the United States to stand trial on fraud charges linked to the alleged violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

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Meng, who was arrested in late 2018 in Canada, denies any wrongdoing.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, said Lin of National Taiwan University, the United States has succeeded in sending a warning to those who have harmed or plan to go against U.S. tech interests.  (VOA)