A senior U.S. State Department official said there is no need for President Donald Trump to sign an executive order to explicitly ban Chinese telecommunication company Huawei from taking part in the buildout of the U.S. 5G networks.
The four largest U.S. telecom carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — have agreed not to use Huawei in any part of their 5G networks, said Ambassador Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber and international communications and information policy.
Strayer spoke with VOA about U.S. 5G policy and security concerns over Huawei. He also said the United States will only use trusted vendors, including South Korea’s Samsung, Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia, in the buildout of the U.S. 5G networks.
WATCH: Is 5G Chinese Technology a Threat to US National Security?
The following is an edited excerpt of the interview:
VOA: VOA broadcasts to many countries in Africa and Asia. These are places eager to develop their economies with high-tech communications. What does the U.S. say to those countries, which are eager for 5G and see the most attractive equipment and financing packages for those networks are all Chinese? If countries resist the Huawei offer, how many years back does that set their 5G networks? What would be the alternatives?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Strayer: All around the world, we’re all very excited to see the promise of 5G technology. It’s going to empower things like telemedicine, autonomous vehicles, autonomous manufacturing, and including autonomous transportation networks in general.
So it’s going to be very important that network be incredibly secure because of all the critical infrastructure that’s going to ride on top of it. We know that there are a number of vendors besides Chinese technology vendors that are providing the equipment, the underlying infrastructure for 5G networks.
Those include Samsung in South Korea, Ericsson in Sweden and Nokia in Finland. So we believe those are trusted vendors.
We have grave concerns about the Chinese vendors because they can be compelled by the National Intelligence Law in China as well as other laws in China to take actions that would not be in the interests of the citizens of other countries around the world. Those networks could be disrupted or their data could be taken and be used for purposes that would not be consistent with fundamental human rights in those countries.
VOA: But it’s going to be a difficult choice. China is offering a great deal, in some cases 0% interest loans, 20-year payment plans, and what are the alternative plans like? Is there an analogy that you have that can show how turning down that kind of offer for something like 5G is actually in their long-term interest?
Strayer: We think that there should be commercially reasonable terms applied to financing deals. There’s obviously private financing available from telecom companies, but there are also a number of multinational, multilateral development banks providing potential sources of financing for infrastructure deals around the world.
We don’t think that countries need to adhere to, be left with only the predatory lending terms that are often offered by the Chinese Development Bank and other financing mechanisms that the Chinese companies are offering. Zero percent interest for 20 years is not commercially reasonable. It comes with huge strings attached. In fact, many of these things aren’t even transparent enough for countries to know what they’re signing up to.
We’re encouraging countries to think carefully about how they will move into 5G, make sure that they’re applying and signing up to financing terms that are commercially reasonable and ones that they can pay back in the long term.
We know of stories, of course, of ports being used as collateral in some of these financing deals, so countries could lose access to their very critical infrastructure under the terms of some of these deals. So we think that while 5G has huge promise and we should move quickly to it, we’re not in any way slowing ourselves down by going with vendors that are more trustworthy, and under financing conditions that are probably concessionary but are not at the level of some of these deals that are in no way reasonable in any type of commercial sense.
VOA: If Washington is asking other countries to ban Huawei from their 5G networks, why hasn’t the U.S. done so? I mean, the president has not signed an executive order on a comprehensive ban on Huawei, not just in the government, but in the private sector as well. Is the U.S. credibility at stake? How certain are you that the U.S. will ban Huawei equipment from its 5G network?
Strayer: So in our view, we don’t need to have a legal mechanism to ban Huawei in our private sector networks. The four largest U.S. telecom carriers have already agreed that they will not use Huawei or ZTE in any part of their 5G networks and they’re not using it in their 4G networks. So we don’t think that we need a legal tool to force them to do so. In addition, last year in the National Defense Law that was enacted at the end of the year, the government was prohibited — our U.S. government is prohibited from using these high-risk vendors.
VOA: Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is coming to Washington this week for the latest round of trade negotiation with the U.S. There are allegations against Huawei for stealing U.S. intellectual property. How should Huawei and 5G be discussed in the bilateral trade talks? Could they be hurdles for the two nations to reach a deal?
Strayer: I just want to be very clear that everything we’re talking about with countries around the world is about a national security threat that we see facing now, and that we think could have significant economic implications for them as well.
We are not talking about this in the context of trade. And I would just mention, too, that the concerns we have about Huawei that are well-documented are related to corruption, related to the theft of intellectual property, and related to defying sanctions, and using basically money-laundering schemes, have raised great concern about that company itself, but they’re not part of our trade discussions.
VOA: Is the U.S. lagging China in developing 5G infrastructure?
Strayer: No. We think we’re leading the world. By the end of this year, we’ll have 90 trials rolled out across the United States. We’ve already seen them being rolled out by Verizon and AT&T. We think we are actually leading the world in this field and we’re using only vendors from those three countries I mentioned that are trusted vendors, not the ones in China.
VOA: Thank you for talking to VOA.
Strayer: Thank you.