Huawei has hit back at Donald Trump’s administration after it declared a national emergency to ban technology from “foreign adversaries” and subjected the Chinese telecommunications company to strict export controls.

An executive order issued by the US president on Wednesday declared a national economic emergency that empowers the government to ban the technology and services of “foreign adversaries” deemed to pose “unacceptable risks” to national security, including from cyber-espionage and sabotage.

The order did not name specific countries or companies but came after months of US pressure on Huawei. It reflects government concerns that equipment from Chinese suppliers could pose an espionage threat to US internet and telecommunications infrastructure.

In a statement reported by the state-run Global Times, Huawei said: “If the US restricts Huawei, it will not make the US safer, nor will it make the US stronger. It will only force the US to use inferior and expensive alternative equipment, lagging behind other countries … and ultimately harming US companies and consumers.”

The company said it was willing to “communicate with the US to ensure product security”, echoing reassurances given to the UK.

Trump’s executive order invokes the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the president the authority to regulate commerce in response to a national emergency that threatens the US. The order directs the commerce department, working with other government agencies, to draw up a plan for enforcement within 150 days.

The commerce department said it was adding Huawei and 70 affiliates to its “entity list”, banning the company from acquiring components and technology from US firms without government approval.

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The world’s two largest economies have recently increased tariffs in a battle over what US officials call China’s unfair trade practices. Talks between Washington and Beijing have ground to a halt, causing volatility amid concerns about a global trade war.

Gao Feng, a spokesman for China’s ministry of commerce, said: “China has emphasised many times that the concept of national security should not be abused, and that it should not be used as a tool for trade protectionism”.

A foreign affairs spokesman described US actions against specific Chinese companies as disgraceful and unjust. “We urge the US side to stop oppressing Chinese companies under the pretext of security concerns and provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for their normal investment and operation,” the spokesman said at a press briefing ahead of the executive order.

Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said the order, which has been under review for more than a year, was aimed at protecting the supply chain from “foreign adversaries to the nation’s information and communications technology and services supply chain”.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, Americans will be able to trust that our data and infrastructure are secure,” he said.

Huawei is a Chinese telecoms company founded in 1987. Politicians in the US have alleged that Huawei’s forthcoming 5G mobile phone networks could be hacked by Chinese spies to eavesdrop on sensitive phone calls and gain access to counter-terrorist operations. Allies who allow Huawei technology inside their 5G networks have been told they may be frozen out of US intelligence sharing. Australia, New Zealand and Japan have banned Huawei from their 5G networks.

In the UK, BT has excluded Huawei telecoms infrastructure from its own 5G rollout and removed some of its equipment from the 4G network. In January 2019 Vodafone said it had decided to ‘pause’ the use of Huawei equipment in its core networks across Europe. The UK’s defence secretary Gavin Williamson was sacked by prime minister Theresa May after a leak revealed the sensitive decision that the UK would not be totally banning Huawei from 5G projects.

Poland’s internal affairs minister, Joachim Brudziński, has called for the European Union and Nato to work on a joint position over whether to exclude Huawei from their markets, after an Huawei employee was arrested on spying charges.

Much of the doubt surrounding Huawei stems from founder Ren Zhengfei’s background in China’s People’s Liberation Army between 1974 and 1983, where he was an engineer. His daughter, Huawei’s senior executive Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada in December 2018 over allegations of Iran-sanctions violations, and she awaits extradition to the US. Ren, referring to trade issues between the US and China, says the company is ‘like a small sesame seed, stuck in the middle of conflict between two great powers’.


Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

US officials have previously labelled Huawei a threat and lobbied allies not to use Huawei network equipment in next-generation 5G networks, calling it untrustworthy.

Beijing has pledged to take necessary counter-measures against the US actions, announcing plans this week to increase tariffs on nearly $60bn (£46.7bn) worth of US imports beginning on 1 June, in what the Chinese government said was a retaliatory move after Washington imposed tariffs on $200bn (£155.8bn) of Chinese goods.

Observers say other measures could include added regulatory hurdles for US companies operating in China.

Lu Kang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said: “The Chinese government naturally cares about the rights and interests of Chinese businesses and the government will take necessary measures to safeguard their rights. As for foreign businesses in China, as long as their operation is lawful, they should not be concerned.”

Trump is expected to meet China’s president, Xi Jinping, in Japan next month.

Huawei has strongly denied US allegations that its equipment could be used by the Chinese state to spy.

Ren Zhengfei, the company’s founder and chief executive, claimed in February that Huawei would reject any efforts to gather intelligence through its products even if the Chinese government required it to do so.

“We never participate in espionage and we do not allow any of our employees to do any act like that. And we absolutely never install backdoors,” he told CBS News.

In August, Trump signed a bill that barred the US government from using equipment from Huawei and another Chinese provider, ZTE Corp.

The export restriction is “a grave escalation with China that at minimum plunges the prospect of continued trade negotiations into doubt,” Eurasia Group analysts said in a report. “Unless handled carefully, this situation is likely to place US and Chinese companies at new risk.”

It appears the law invoked in Wednesday’s executive order has never before been declared in a way that impacts an entire commercial sector.



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