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Why the Trump administration is so concerned about Huawei

The Trump administration has urged other countries not to allow Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to build the next generation of mobile networks. But concerns about Chinese state influence on Huawei aren't necessarily shared by allies. Amna Nawaz reports and talks to Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber and international communications and information policy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For months, the Trump administration has been trying to persuade foreign countries not to allow the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to build the latest generation of mobile networks. But they are being met with skepticism by many allies abroad.

    As Amna Nawaz reports, Trump administration officials were on Capitol Hill today once again making the case against Huawei.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When the Senate Judiciary Committee convened today, it was clear that so-called 5G technology is a brave new world for some.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    Today we're going to talk about something that is — I am by no means an expert on.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

    I actually know very little about 5G.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But others warned, the race to 5G, or fifth-generation communications technology, is well under way, and, they said, China's in the lead.

    Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware:

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    The very real potential that China will be the winner in this next generation of technology, and that will allow them to both exploit and benefit from and potentially disrupt what we be always on, always present, central networks that drive everything, from literally our vehicles, to health care, to national security, to our power system, is chilling and concerning.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Indeed, China is moving rapidly. In Guiyang, for example, public transportation is now a 5G experience, with panoramic maps and on-board entertainment.

  • Guiyang Resident (through translator):

    The 5G Wi-Fi is fast in speed without any stuttering, even when you swipe your smartphone. I am amazed by the facilities on the bus. The 5G era is coming.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But the Trump administration argues that Chinese tech giant Huawei is susceptible to state pressure. American officials have barred Huawei from U.S. government contracts and are urging U.S. allies to follow suit.

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the case in London last week.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Why would anyone grant such power to a regime that has already grossly violated cyberspace? This is exactly what China wants. They want to divide Western alliances through bits and bytes, not bullets and bombs.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Chinese officials dismiss Western fears and say 5G, by definition, needs global cooperation.

  • Geng Shuang (through translator):

    In the era of globalization, the attempts to introduce political factors into 5G development is not only detrimental to the development of 5G, but also go against the common interests of the international community.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amid the back-and-forth, Ajit Pai, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission, told the "NewsHour" last month that he believes the 5G race is a winnable one.

  • Ajit Pai:

    If you look at some of the independent observers, they believe that the United States is in the lead when it comes to 5G. For example, Cisco recently put out a report suggesting that North America, led, of course, by the United States, would have twice as many 5G connections as Asia by 2022.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In the meantime, Huawei insists it is independent, and its chairman pledged today to sign no-spying agreements with other countries.

    And with me now is Robert Strayer. He is deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber and international communications and information policy.

    Robert Strayer, welcome to the "NewsHour"

  • Robert Strayer:

    Thank you. Thank you for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So the U.S. has been on sort of a diplomatic offensive for the last year, trying to get the allies to shun Huawei.

    What is that argument you're making to other countries?

  • Robert Strayer:

    Right.

    We're talking about the very importance of 5G technology, that it's going to bring a whole new level of prosperity to our societies. It's going to empower all kinds of things like telemedicine, autonomous transportation system, including autonomous vehicles, as well as empower that critical infrastructure that we have today, such as electricity distribution.

    That makes it a very important part of our lives. So we're talking to these countries about the need to also have it to also be a secure type of technology. And it's because of all those important things that ride on it that it needs to have the highest level of security.

    That requires looking at the supply chain of the vendor that is going to provide that underlying 5G infrastructure. And so we say you need to look at the country from which that technology is coming and the ability of that government in a country to influence the vendor to take actions that are not in your country's interests or in your citizens' interests.

    They could cause that technology to be disrupted that would cause your electricity to be disrupted or your provision of water or sewer or other very important, critical services that the public needs to have available. It also would provide the opportunity for a foreign power to conduct espionage on those networks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    These are specific concerns you have about the Chinese government and their influence over Huawei. Is that what you're saying?

  • Robert Strayer:

    Yes, that's exactly right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, that argument doesn't seem to be catching fire with the other U.S. allies, right?

    You just came back from this big conference in Prague that was about 5G, 30-plus other nations. No one else has signed on to the ban at that conference. Why isn't that argument working?

  • Robert Strayer:

    So our diplomatic campaign is first to get countries to acknowledge that there is a risk here regarding the supply chain.

    There is not a country out there or a telecommunications provider that doesn't now acknowledge after a year of our diplomatic effort that there is a supply chain security risk that they need to consider when they're building out their 5G network.

    So, we have been successful in that regard. We have also seen a number of countries already implement bans on Huawei technology, including Australia and Japan. We're continuing to have a dialogue with all of our partners. It's going to take a lot of education. It's going to be a long-term process, as we see 5G build out over a number of years. It is not going to happen immediately.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But the U.S. has been moving with real urgency here, right? You say this is a national security problem.

    Only a handful of countries have signed on, not a single European country. In fact, British intelligence has now said they think that they can mitigate the risk, whatever risk Huawei presents. Why isn't the U.S. argument landing with your allies?

  • Robert Strayer:

    Well, I think it is landing, in the sense that they're acknowledging the security risk that's at stake.

    It's one of the top priorities for Secretary Pompeo and for the rest of us in the administration to make sure that we're continuing to educate our partners and allies about the risks that are at place here.

    At the end of the day, it's going to be their own sovereign decision about how best to implement 5G technologies in their society. They need to do it with open eyes and understanding of all the security risks that are at stake.

    And because it's going to take so much time, we don't expect them to immediately implement bans. We want them to adopt strong security-based protocols, so that they are recognizing all the cyber-risks, as well as the supply chain risks.

    We think, when you rigorously apply the principles like those that came out of the Czech Republic just two weeks ago that include looking at the model of governance, whereas the European Commission said at the end of March that they should look at the legal regime as well, including the ability of a third country to influence the vendor.

    We think, when you apply those, there's no way that you should have Huawei in your government's network.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you think the U.S. has a credibility problem making this argument to other countries at this time? There's strained relationships a lot of our allies and the Trump administration.

    The warning is, beware, this country could spy on you, when the U.S.' own spying program over the last several years has been laid bare for the world to see. Does that complicate your job?

  • Robert Strayer:

    No, not at all.

    We have frank conversations over years with all of our partners about security concerns. And because this is particularly focused just on security, that's an easy conversation for us to have with other governments. We can continue to have very in-depth conversations about security.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, a Huawei official said today that they're a private company, they're under no obligation to work with the government. A spokesman also said they'd be willing to sign a no-spy agreement.

    Is there a world in which you see there could be a meeting, a sort of halfway, a compromise? Or will the U.S. only support an all-out ban?

  • Robert Strayer:

    It's a completely feckless point to make on their part.

    There is no differentiation really between the private sector in companies and the government in China. The government, through the national intelligence law and other laws that it has at its disposal, can compel companies to take action.

    And then there's no way for that company to object. There's no such thing as independent judicial redress. They are subject completely to the direction of the Chinese Communist Party. So it's impossible for an official to make such an attestation that they won't do this, because they can be ordered the next day to do so by the Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In some ways, calling for a ban, some people will say, is sort of addressing a problem that's already out there, if there is one.

    Huawei says they're in 170 countries, working with governments and customers there. And the argument for the countries that want to work with them is, look, they build good gear, it's reliable, and it's cheap.

    So what's the incentive for a country to want to get potentially behind in technology — technological advancement, and pay more to do that?

  • Robert Strayer:

    Well, first, we would say that there's no reason that you would fall behind technologically by going with something that's more trusted, like the gear that's being provided by Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung.

    Their technology is just as good as Huawei, without taking on that additional security risk.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You would argue that they are where Huawei is? Huawei is the clear global leader in this field right now.

  • Robert Strayer:

    Well, they have a slightly large market share.

    When you look at the number of trials that are in the field right now, there's more done by Ericsson than even Huawei. Over time, we're going to see much more development in this field. We shouldn't be rushing out there to choose the cheapest alternative right now. The other companies are going to provide increasing amounts of capability on their systems.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Robert Strayer, thank you very much for being here.

  • Robert Strayer:

    Thank you for having me.

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