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Huawei crackdown

Chinese tech trio part of 'malignant ecosystem': US official

Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent lumped with Huawei as security threats

Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent -- three of China's largest tech companies and collectively known as BAT -- have come under attack in Washington, where a State Department official has compared them to Huawei.   © Getty Images

NEW YORK -- As Huawei Technologies and ZTE scramble to cope with a U.S. crackdown, Chinese compatriots Baidu, Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings have also made the Trump administration's radar as national security risks.

A State Department official this week lumped the trio -- collectively known as BAT -- in with Huawei and ZTE, which have been essentially barred from doing business with American companies and receiving U.S. exports.

"Across the malignant ecosystem of China's technologized authoritarianism there is a deep record of cooperation and collaboration between companies such as Huawei, ZTE, Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu and the state security bureaucracy," said Christopher Ford, who runs the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, at a conference Wednesday in Washington in remarks published by the State Department.

"As these companies export their products and services to the rest of the world, the security and human rights problems associated with this 'China Model' are progressively exported with them," Ford said.

His comments, coinciding with the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, signaled a potential escalation of American action against Chinese tech companies as national security concerns mount and the race for technological supremacy between the world's two largest economies heats up.

Though Ford called them Huawei's "siblings," the BAT trio operate in domains notably different from telecommunications equipment providers Huawei and ZTE. Alibaba and Baidu are both listed in the U.S. with a combined market capitalization exceeding $500 billion, the former an increasingly important gateway for American companies to access the Chinese retail market. Tencent, the behemoth behind Chinese superapp WeChat, has sizable stakes in household names of American tech, including Tesla and Snapchat.

Electronics makers Xiaomi and Lenovo Group were also briefly mentioned in Ford's speech, which cited China's "troubling lack of any clear separation between government" and the private sector with regard to "military modernization."

The Trump administration this year added Huawei to its so-called Entity List, banning exports of U.S. technology and goods -- from chips containing American technology to Google's Android operating system -- to the Chinese tech giant. Huawei has announced its HarmonyOS in response and is set to launch its first Google-free smartphone next spring.

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