View from US

G-20 summit: Trump's Huawei decision riles China hawks in Washington

President Donald Trump's decision yesterday to lift some restrictions on blacklisted Chinese technology giant Huawei was seen as an outright concession, according to China hawks in the US capital who called for continued pressure on the company ahead of the Group of 20 Summit.

Mr Trump's move has left him open to the charge that his administration's ban on Huawei was a mere bargaining chip for trade talks, and not born out of genuine security concerns.

Experts said that the President's willingness to use Huawei as leverage in the trade talks watered down the administration's argument to convince allies and partners around the world that their 5G networks should be shut to the Chinese company for national security reasons.

"President Trump made a strategic mistake in using Huawei as a bargaining chip. It weakens the US message that the company's technology and its relationship with the Chinese state pose a major security threat," Mr Martin Rasser, technology and national security senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, told The Sunday Times.

Mr Rasser, who has worked in the Department of Defence and the Central Intelligence Agency, added: "Beijing can view this only as a major concession. It achieved a crucial outcome apparently without giving much of anything in return."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Twitter: "Huawei is one of few potent levers we have to make China play fair on trade."

"If (the President) backs off, as it appears he is doing, it will dramatically undercut our ability to change China's unfair trade practices," he added, espousing a bipartisan view held by politicians from both parties.

 
 
 

The Commerce Department last month banned American companies from selling to Huawei the components it needs for its equipment, citing national security concerns.

After meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, Mr Trump told reporters that US companies can sell to Huawei "equipment where there is no great national emergency (sic) problem with it".

Mr Trump later clarified that Huawei still remains on the Commerce Department's formal blacklist, adding that there would be a meeting on whether to take Huawei off the list today or on Tuesday.

Mr Trump's easing of the restrictions went against calls from China hardliners from both parties to keep up the pressure on Huawei - although he left his options open, saying that he would save discussions of Huawei for the final stage of negotiations.

Others, however, were glad for the truce.

Semiconductor Industry Association president John Neuffer said that the progress made in Osaka was good news for the semiconductor industry, the overall tech sector, and the world's two largest economies.

Hudson Institute Asia-Pacific security chair Patrick Cronin said: "Balancing trade and security is more of an art than a science and the President has done the minimum to achieve a ceasefire in the trade war."

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Dr Cronin added that Mr Trump, who is seeking re-election in 2020 and will address the nation on Independence Day on Thursday, would have had an eye on his domestic audience.

Dr Cronin said: "The temporary truce reflects his priorities and his re-election strategy.

"He will be able to deliver a message to Americans on the Fourth of July that during his tenure he has been pro-growth, pro-defence and pro-peace."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 30, 2019, with the headline 'Trump's Huawei decision riles China hawks in Washington'. Subscribe