Three Republican senators known for their hawkish stance on China are calling on President Joe Biden’s Commerce Department nominee to clarify if there are any circumstances under which she would remove China’s telecoms equipment giant Huawei from a trade blacklist that the Trump administration placed it on due to concerns about national security.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), in a letter to the nominee, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, expressed “concern for your statements suggesting that all aspects of the approach to U.S. economic and technological competition are up for review.”
Raimondo, at her Jan. 26 confirmation hearing, vowed to protect U.S. telecommunications networks from Chinese companies but declined to commit to keeping Huawei on the blacklist.
“China’s actions have been anti-competitive, hurtful to American workers and businesses, coercive, and, as you point out, they’re culpable for atrocious human rights abuses,” Raimondo said in response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “So whether it’s the entities list, or tariffs, or countervailing duties, I intend to use all those tools to the fullest extent possible to level the playing field for the American worker.”
When Cruz pressed Raimondo on whether certain companies would remain on the blacklist, Raimondo said she would consult with lawmakers, industry, and allies and “make an assessment as to what’s best for American national and economic security.”
Former President Donald Trump placed Huawei on a trade blacklist in May 2019 and led a global campaign to convince allies to exclude it from their 5G networks. Washington has long said Huawei equipment could be exploited by China’s communist regime for espionage or to disrupt communication networks.
U.S. officials have pointed to laws in China that compel companies to cooperate with intelligence agencies when asked. Huawei, which was founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army, the military arm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has denied these allegations.
The three Republican lawmakers in their letter urged Raimondo to clarify her stance regarding Huawei.
“We ask that you respond in writing with your view of whether you foresee any scenario in which you would, if confirmed as secretary … remove Huawei … from the Entity List,” or relax rules governing its access to 5G technology, the senators wrote.
“The company has not changed alongside the U.S. presidency,” they warned.
The letter is a sign of growing pressure from Capitol Hill for Biden to take a hard line on Beijing. The Biden team generally steered clear of transparent policy commitments on China before taking office earlier this month, but have promised to maintain a tough stance while employing a more strategic, multilateral approach.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the administration will work to safeguard American telecoms networks from “untrusted vendors” like Huawei that threaten national security. This offered some insight into their plans for China’s top telecoms equipment company, long in Washington’s crosshairs.
But the comments were not enough to allay the concerns of the three senators, who raised the specter of opposition to other Commerce Department nominees if they do not commit to a tough enough technology policy against Beijing.
“It is equally imperative that all nominees to the Department of Commerce follow your leadership in recognizing both the dangers of the CCP and the need to obstruct or squeeze PRC access to U.S. technology that may advance CCP ambitions that are dangerous to U.S. interests,” they wrote. “If these nominees do not make clear that they will adhere to these broad concerns and objectives, they may face substantial opposition from Congress,” they added.
Reuters contributed to this report.