Senate investigation finds China exploitation of US openness in telecoms market

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A US Senate investigation has found that China sought to exploit the openness of America’s telecommunications market, raising national security concerns for Washington.

“US government officials have warned that Chinese state-owned carriers are ‘subject to exploitation, influence, and control by the Chinese government’ and can be used in the Chinese government’s cyber and economic espionage efforts targeted at the United States,” the report read.

It added that the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security “historically exercised minimal oversight to safeguard US telecommunications networks against risks posed by Chinese state-owned carriers.”

According to the report, only four site visits were conducted by these agencies to two of the three Chinese state-owned carriers since the early 2000s.

At least one Chinese carrier provides services to Chinese government facilities in the US.

The three Chinese state-owned carriers authorized by the FCC to provide international telecommunications services between the US and foreign points are: China Unicom Americas and China Telecom Americas in 2002; ComNet first obtained authorization in 1999.

There are national security concerns as the carriers are ultimately owned by the Chinese government, and have established relationships with major US carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink—”all of which serve government entities, as well as private customers,” the report said.

Operating for over 20 years in the US, the report concluded that “especially when dealing with state-owned telecommunications carriers, greater controls are needed, and the Administration and Congress must work together to ensure sufficient safeguards and oversight mechanisms are in place.”

The US is not the only country China has significant telecoms interests in. Chinese company Huawei has been contracted to build the United Kingdom’s 5G network. Washington has been vehemently opposed to this. On Monday, the US took a swipe at China’s “bullying tactics” and leapt to the defense of the UK.

“In the latest example, Beijing has reportedly threatened to punish British bank HSBC and to break commitments to build nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom unless London allows Huawei to build its 5G network. Shenzhen-based Huawei is an extension of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Pompeo said that the latest actions by China show why countries should avoid economic overreliance on China and why they should “guard their critical infrastructure from CCP influence.”

In a surprise turn of events, Pompeo said that Washington stands ready to help the UK “with any needs they have, from building secure and reliable nuclear power plants to developing trusted 5G solutions that protect their citizens’ privacy.”

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