A new US law is set pass that will name and shame any country it considers an ally if they are found to use any Huawei or ZTE kit.

Scott Bicheno

April 12, 2023

3 Min Read
Tense relations between United States and China. Concept of conflict and stress

A new US law is set pass that will name and shame any country it considers an ally if they are found to use any Huawei or ZTE kit.

It’s called the ‘Countering Untrusted Telecommunications Abroad Act’, which already tells you much of what you need to know about the bill. The bill was first presented to the US House of Representatives in July of last year by Representative Susan Wild.

“Reporting has shown us how Huawei and ZTE operate as vehicles for the Chinese Communist Party to commit human rights violations against the Uyghur people, conduct mass surveillance, and spread that technology to other authoritarian regimes” said Wild at the time. “In the face of this threat, we need to redouble our efforts to protect our national security and interests, help our allies take vital measures for their own security, and stand firmly in defence of fundamental rights.”

There’s just so much to unpick there. The bill, which you can see here, stresses ‘it is in the economic and national security interests of the United States to ensure that countries around the globe use trusted telecommunications equipment or services.’ At least that’s honest, if brazen, but Wild’s attempt to sugar-coat national self-interest with a veneer of philanthropy is deeply cynical, as is repackaging the clear browbeating of US allies as ‘help’.

“It is imperative that we confront this threat. Huawei and ZTE have served as vehicles for the Chinese Communist Party to commit human rights violations against the Uyghur people, conduct mass surveillance, and spread that technology to other authoritarian regimes,” reiterated Wild when her bill passed its first reading last September. “My bill seeks to change that by setting us on a path toward greater national and economic security.” Because we don’t approve of authoritarianism, do we?

Reuters reports that the bill is up for its second reading next week, which seems like a formality since it was passed by a margin of 361-69 first time. Assuming it comes into law, the specific ways in which the US will ‘help’ its allies to do what they’re told will be through the compilation of a special annual report, detailing the following:

(1) A description of the presence, or lack thereof, of untrusted telecommunications equipment or services in any 5G network of the country.

(2) If any untrusted telecommunications equipment or service is present in such a network—

(A) an enumeration of any mobile carriers that are using the untrusted telecommunications equipment or service present, and any mobile carriers that are not;

(B) a determination of whether the untrusted telecommunications equipment or service present is in the core or periphery of the network; and

(C) any plans by the United States ally or partner, or the individual mobile carrier, to rip and replace the untrusted telecommunications equipment or service present with a trusted telecommunications equipment or service.

(3) A description of any plans by network operators to use untrusted communications equipment or services in the deployment of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) technology, or any successor to such technology, or in future 6G networks.

No specific measures or sanctions are detailed in the bill but what would be the purpose of compiling such a report if not to punish those countries that don’t fall into line? The US has many tools at its disposal to act on this information, ranging from political pressure, to withdrawing security cooperation, to trade sanctions and much else.

What jurisdiction does the US House of Representatives have to pass laws directed at other countries? Of course countries such as the UK have been coerced by the US into doing what they’re told through political and diplomatic back-channels in the past, but this feels like a significant new step. The rest of the world is increasingly being used as proxies in the technological cold war between the US and China, but even their political capital must have its limits.

Here’s Wild selling her bill to the house last September.

 

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About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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