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Trade war

Trump's 5G push signals softer stance on Huawei

But Pompeo says US will not be able to share information if equipment is used

Trump administration officials had been trying to convince allies not to use Huawei equipment in their communications infrastructure.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump hinted at a new, less-harsh stance toward Chinese telecom equipment company Huawei Technologies, tweeting Thursday that he opposes blocking out advanced technology in the field of wireless communications.

"I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible," the president wrote in a morning tweet. Noting that it is "far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard," Trump called on American companies to step up their efforts, "or get left behind."

Calling 5G "so obviously" the future, Trump wrote, "I want the United States to win through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies. We must always be the leader in everything we do, especially when it comes to the very exciting world of technology!"

The tweet comes on a day the U.S.-China trade negotiations in Washington were elevated to cabinet-level from working-level. The two sides are seeking to shape the framework of a trade deal, and Trump's words may be related to the discussions.

But Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned countries that using Huawei equipment would lead to problems in information sharing.

In an appearance on the Fox Business Network on Thursday, Pompeo said that "If a country adopts this and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won't be able to share information with them, we won't be able to work alongside them."

In some cases, he added, "there's risk we won't even be able to co-locate American resources, an American embassy or an American military outpost. There's real risk, and we want to make sure they know not only the risk to their own people but their risk of being able to work alongside the United States in keeping the world safe."

Klon Kitchen, the Heritage Foundation's senior fellow for technology, national security and science policy, shot down the notion that Trump's tweet indicated a change of opinion or of policy. "I suspect the president is communicating a broader desire to see the U.S. continue to be the global technology leader regardless of alternative foreign technologies," Kitchen said.

The Trump administration has faced difficulty in persuading some allies, especially in Europe, to join a boycott of Huawei equipment.

In the U.K., the head of the National Cyber Security Center has said publicly that Britain is able to manage the security risks of using Huawei telecommunications equipment and has not seen any evidence of malicious activity by the company.

The German government has also delayed a decision on whether to ban Huawei from an auction for 5G frequencies scheduled for mid-March, due to differences between ministries.

"The animosity toward the Trump administration in capitals across Europe has made it more difficult to form a united front against Huawei," said Isaac Stone Fish, a senior fellow at the Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. "The president may have been able to gain more support if he had not alienated European allies on other issues and had not made personal attacks on leaders."

Meanwhile, Heritage's Kitchen noted that European countries were simply saying that they felt "comfortable in their ability to mitigate that threat" rather than disagreeing with the U.S. over the Huawei threat itself.

"Who do you think understands the Chinese capability and threat better?" he asked, implying that the U.S. probably has a better understanding of Huawei's capabilities.

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