Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has outlined a plan for the removal of Chinese equipment from U.S. telecommunications networks, saying that it poses an “unacceptable risk” to national security, during a speech marking Pai’s most aggressive stance to date on China.
Pai specifically called out hardware manufactured by China’s Huawei and ZTE, which are leaders in 5G wireless technology.
Pai made the comments in a speech Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He said that the FCC will vote later this month to launch a process to remove and replace Chinese equipment from government-funded communications networks, focusing on hardware manufactured by Huawei and ZTE.
The move follows President Donald Trump’s executive order in May prohibiting the purchase and installation of telecommunications equipment in the U.S. that has been deemed a security threat.
“America’s largest telecom providers have generally refrained from installing Chinese equipment, but others, particularly some rural wireless carriers, currently have Chinese equipment in their networks,” Pai said.
“This poses an unacceptable risk.”
The FCC’s plans call for an assessment of how much equipment from Huawei and ZTE exist in these networks, followed by financial assistance to help carriers make the transition.
“We’ll seek public input on how big this ‘rip and replace’ program needs to be and how best to finance it. Our goal is to close security gaps in a fiscally responsible way,” Pai said Tuesday.
While Huawei and ZTE are private companies, they work in close connection with the Communist regime in Beijing and must comply with requests from the country’s intelligence agencies.
“That means China could compel Huawei to spy on foreign individuals and businesses and prevent Huawei from disclosing such surveillance requests,” Pai noted.
China’s authoritarian rulers have come under intense scrutiny following months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Officials in Beijing recently pressured the NBA to staunch internal criticism of Chinese policy in Hong Kong. They demanded that Blizzard Entertainment suspend a professional gamer for speaking out in support of the protestors. They also required that Apple remove an emoji of the Taiwanese flag in certain territories.
“If China is willing to use its leverage over basketball, e-sports, and emojis, imagine what could happen if we let Chinese companies’ equipment into tomorrow’s 5G wireless networks,” Pai said.
“This would open the door to surveillance, espionage, and other harms—stakes much higher than sports and entertainment.”