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Huawei: Security Risk, Bargaining Chip or Both?

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A recent Gizmodo headline poses the question everyone seems to be asking lately, “Wait, What the Hell Is Going on With Huawei Now?”

In an apparent policy reversal, President Trump said U.S. companies may be able to sell at least some software and components to the Chinese telecom equipment and electronics giant, despite the recent ban on such activity.  Details remain murky, but administration officials suggested later that only general-purpose products which pose no security threats are on the list.

Trump’s remarks came shortly after he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka.

The Technology Policy Institute has been focused on the Huawei issue at least since its well-attended, April 4 panel discussion on the topic, “The Costs and Benefits of Banning Huawei.” 

In case you missed this panel of security and technology policy experts, the video and full transcript of this event are available on the TPI website

Kicking off the Huawei panel, TPI President and Senior Fellow Scott Wallsten acknowledged the Trump Administration’s Huawei policy was responding to a potential security threat. But he said its timing—in the middle of a trade war—cast some doubt on the security rationale.

Both as moderator of Huawei panel and in subsequent interviews, Wallsten suggested that the Trump Administration could be creating a bargaining chip to use with China, in addition to security concerns.

Sue Halpern’s April 26 New Yorker article, “The Terrifying Potential of the 5G Network,” quotes three of TPI’s Huawei panelists, including Wallsten. Again, acknowledging the security concerns, he said, “If we didn’t have these other trade issues with China, it would be easier to just accept the [Administration’s] security statements as truth.  But when it gets mixed up with all these other trade issues, it makes it a little suspect.”

Suspect or not, after President Trump’s recent comments from Osaka, it is unclear whether the Administration views Huawei as a security risk, a trade bargaining chip or both.