Trump linking sanctions with trade talks weakens claims of national security

US President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for travel to Japan from the White House in Washington, US, on May 24, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump says he may resolve a dispute over Huawei Technologies as part of a trade agreement with China, yet doing so would undercut US assertions that the company poses a national security threat.

Days after trade talks with Beijing hit an impasse this month, the United States put the Shenzhen-based maker of telecommunications gear on a blacklist over concerns that it could serve Chinese intelligence.

Mr Trump could reverse that move, at least in part, by letting Huawei resume buying advanced chips and easing an expected import ban by allowing the company's equipment in parts of the US network.

Such a decision would violate decades of economic diplomacy by the US, which has always sought to portray the placement of companies on a blacklist as apolitical and linked to narrow issues of national security.

But Huawei has drawn the ire of Washington's national security establishment at a time when the President is broadening the definition of national security to include economic cooperation. American officials say the Chinese company's gear could serve as a conduit for Beijing's security agencies.

Mr Trump's suggestion last Thursday provoked rebukes.

"I don't think so," Senator Tom Cotton told Bloomberg TV on Friday, when asked whether Huawei should be part of trade talks.

Mr Cotton noted that Huawei needs US tech equipment to achieve its goal of leadership in the advanced 5G systems. "To send those chips and other components to China, to let Huawei use them - it would be akin to sending uranium or munitions to the Soviet Union in the Cold War," he said.

On the issue of the US placing Huawei on the export blacklist, Mr Wang Zhijun, vice-head of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said: "The US has roughly interfered in the integrated circuit sector's global market order with a groundless accusation... The big irony is that US has always paraded itself as being a market economy."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 26, 2019, with the headline Trump linking sanctions with trade talks weakens claims of national security. Subscribe