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Michael Krull: President Trump, do not lift Huawei and other Chinese sanctions without anti-theft red line

Huawei Canada. (Raysonho/Wikimedia Commons)
June 27, 2019

There is increasing speculation that President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will, in a side meeting at the G-20 summit in Japan, break the impasse concerning U.S.-China trade talks. In an effort to increase pressure on President Trump, the Chinese have signaled through the media that a key precursor to a trade deal is the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei.

This is rich, given that China regularly steals the intellectual property of American companies. In fact, Chinese law demands that companies doing business in China surrender their intellectual property to the Chinese. Our red line to conclude trade talks must be that China fully comply with intellectual property and patent protections enshrined in international law and backed up by strict enforcement measures as part of any deal. Without such guarantees, sanctions should continue. 

President Trump, as well as elected officials and national security experts from both political parties, has made clear that Communist China poses the most significant long-term threat to the United States’ national and economic security. No Chinese company is independent of the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party. The intellectual property surrendered by American companies to their Chinese partners is, quite simply, government-sanctioned theft – and it’s appalling. 

U.S. sanctions were put in place on Huawei because, 1) Huawei ignores intellectual property and patent rights, and 2) there are significant security flaws that make the use of their equipment and software a threat to U.S. national security – and the security of our allies. 

Huawei is emphatic in denying any problems with their hardware or software, declaring them just as safe as any other product. Yet, less than three months ago, Microsoft announced that it had found a critical vulnerability in Huawei laptops that exposed users to hacks. The vulnerability was found in Huawei software that comes pre-loaded on almost all Huawei laptops. This exploit allowed bad actors to gain access to the laptop’s operating system and files without needing to go through Windows security protocols.  

Similarly, Europe’s largest phone company, Vodafone Group Plc., found hidden software backdoors in Huawei equipment going back as far as 2011. The backdoors gave Huawei unauthorized access to the carrier’s fixed-line network in Italy. Similarly, Vodafone found backdoors in Huawei-made home Internet routers, as well as in Huawei-made optical service nodes, which transport Internet traffic over fiber optic and broadband network gateways. Despite Huawei’s assurances that these security vulnerabilities had been resolved, additional testing by Vodafone revealed that the vulnerabilities remained.  

The world is on the cusp of the 5G network revolution. Huawei – and China – want to be major players in this critical new technology. The 5G infrastructure will allow for driverless cars, integrated and seamless Internet of Things, and other 21st Century industries that will spring forth once the technology is deployed. Anything that threatens the development and deployment of 5G infrastructure in the United States and in our allied countries jeopardizes our national and economic security.

Trade only works when there is a reasonable level of trust and a fair playing field for both parties. One country cannot simply ignore the rules without consequences. President Trump must say no to side deals and partial agreements, and press hard for a comprehensive trade deal that addresses every issue of concern we have with the Chinese, and a deal that includes strict and well-defined enforcement measures.

Michael Krull is President & CEO of CRA, Inc., and an adjunct professor teaching politics and public policy at Georgetown University. He also participates as a lecturer for the Georgetown Global Education Institute, which brings senior government leaders from the Pacific Rim to the United States for short-term study tours.

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