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Trade war

US scrutiny of Chinese tech dealings expands to Huawei and Google

Congress turns spotlight on partnerships with American entities

Huawei's ties to the Chinese Communist Party have come under scrutiny in the U.S.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- U.S. pressure on Chinese technology companies entered a new phase on Wednesday, as lawmakers extended their criticism of ZTE to Huawei Technologies, another telecommunications giant, and its dealings with Google.

Fears of cutting-edge American technology being transferred to Chinese companies, and subsequently to the government in Beijing, have pushed lawmakers from both parties to unite in opposition to technological collaboration with certain Chinese businesses.

The focus has now expanded to include American entities such as Google that have signed partnerships with the likes of Huawei and ZTE.

On Wednesday, Senators and Representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai expressing concern over the company's strategic partnership with Huawei.

Noting that several such telecommunications companies have extensive ties with the Chinese Communist Party, the letter stated that the partnership could "pose a serious risk to U.S. national security and American consumers."

Specific issue was taken with Google's recent decision not to renew its contract for "Project Maven," through which it was conducting research with the U.S. Department of Defense. The work was aimed at finding ways to use AI to improve the accuracy of military targeting.

The lawmakers also expressed disappointment that "Google apparently is more willing to support the Chinese Communist Party than the U.S. military."

The letter follows efforts by members of Congress to block ZTE from having access to U.S. technology.

Sen. Marco Rubio is one of the fiercest opponents to collaboration with Chinese tech companies, signing letters of concern to both Google and Education Secretary.   © Reuters

Republican and Democratic Senators have added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed on Monday, that would overturn President Donald Trump's decision to allow ZTE to restart procurement from U.S. suppliers in exchange for paying a fine. The spending bill approved a $716 billion budget for the defense department.

Trump met with a group of Republicans from the Senate and House of Representatives at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the disagreement over how to penalize ZTE.

Ahead of November's midterm elections, many lawmakers are keen to show a tough stance toward ZTE, which has been penalized for violating American sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

On Tuesday, a separate group wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, urging her to review an academic program undertaken by Huawei involving partnerships with over 50 U.S. universities. The "Huawei Innovation Research Program" offers funding for research into communication technologies, computer science and engineering.

"We believe these partnerships may pose a significant threat to national security and this threat demands your attention and oversight," read the letter.

"Huawei is not a normal private sector company the way we have grown accustomed to thinking of the commercial economy in the West," it continued.

The letter requested that the Department of Education immediately contact universities to find out whether Huawei is involved in any research that receives federal funding.

On Tuesday, the White House issued a report condemning what it called "Chinese violations of intellectual property rights." It detailed five broad categories of alleged misconduct, including use of espionage and cyberattacks to steal trade secrets.

It also expressed concern about information gathering by the Chinese government in the U.S. through Chinese nationals at American universities and research institutions.

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