WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump's national security team is looking at options to counter the threat of China spying on US phone calls that include the government building a super-fast 5G wireless network, a senior administration official has said.
The official, confirming the gist of a report from Axios.com, said the option was being debated at a low level in the administration and was six to eight months away from being considered by Mr Trump himself.
The 5G network concept is aimed at addressing what officials see as China's threat to US cyber security and economic security.
Axios published documents it said were from a presentation from a National Security Council official. If the government built the network, it would rent access to carriers, Axios said.
Another option includes having a 5G network built by a consortium of wireless carriers, the US official said.
"We want to build a secure 5G network and we have to work with industry to figure out the best way to do it," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A looming concern laid out in the presentation was China's growing presence in the manufacture and operation of wireless networks. A concerted government push could help the United States compete on that front, the presentation said.
TWO OPTIONS LAID OUT BY THE DOCUMENTS
1 US government funds and builds the single network on its own, without the consultation of private companies, and rents access to carriers.
2 US government to recruit help of wireless providers to build their own 5G networks, which would compete with one another. The documents say one of the "pros" of this plan is "less commercial disruption" to the wireless industry than the first plan.
A 5G network is expected to offer significantly faster speeds, more capacity and shorter response times, which could be utilised for new technologies ranging from self-driving cars to remote surgeries. Telecom companies and their suppliers consider it to be a multibillion-dollar revenue opportunity.
Mr Trump's administration has taken a harder line on policies initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama on issues ranging from Beijing's role in restraining North Korea to Chinese efforts to acquire US strategic industries.
This month, AT&T was forced to scrap a plan to offer its customers handsets built by China's Huawei after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with federal regulators, sources told Reuters.
In 2012, Huawei and ZTE Corp were the subject of a US investigation into whether their equipment provided an opportunity for foreign espionage and threatened critical US infrastructure. Some members of the House intelligence committee remain troubled by security threats posed by Huawei and ZTE, according to a congressional aide.
Issues raised in a 2012 committee report about the Chinese firms have "never subsided", the aide said, adding that there was newer classified intelligence that recently resurfaced those concerns.
"We want to build a network so the Chinese can't listen to your calls," the senior official told Reuters. "We have to have a secure network that doesn't allow bad actors to get in. We also have to ensure the Chinese don't take over the market and put every non-5G network out of business."
In Beijing yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China prohibited all forms of hacking, but did not specifically address the 5G network security issue. "We believe that the international community should, on the basis of mutual respect and trust, strengthen dialogue and cooperation and join hands in addressing the threat of cyber attacks," Ms Hua told a regular news briefing.