US moves to cut China out of its telecoms, Internet landscape

Mr Pompeo unveiled a series of measures designed to reduce China's access to American data. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday (Aug 5) unveiled a series of measures under a "Clean Network Programme" designed to reduce China's access to American data.

"With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat and others are significant threats to personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for CCP (Chinese Communist Party) content censorship," Mr Pompeo said.

Though how it will be implemented remains unclear, the programme will focus on five areas and include steps to prevent various Chinese apps, as well as Chinese telecoms companies, from accessing sensitive information on American citizens and businesses.

Mr Pompeo said "Clean Carrier" would:

- Ensure untrusted People's Republic of China (PRC) carriers are not connected with US telecommunications networks;

- Remove untrusted applications from US mobile app stores.

- Prevent untrusted PRC smartphone manufacturers from pre-installing - or otherwise making available for download apps

- Prevent US citizens' most sensitive personal information and US businesses' most valuable intellectual property, including Covid-19 vaccine research, from being stored and processed on cloud-based systems accessible to foreign adversaries of the United States through companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent

"The State Department will work closely with Commerce and other agencies to limit the ability of Chinese cloud service providers to collect, to store, and to process vast amounts of data and sensitive information here in the United States," Mr Pompeo said.

"Clean Cable" would ensure "undersea cables connecting our country to the global Internet are not subverted for intelligence gathering by the PRC at hyper scale".

"We will also work with foreign partners to ensure that undersea cables around the world aren't similarly subject to compromise," he said.

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This is also partially aimed at Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant the US has been moving to cut off from its own and allies' networks.

"Huawei Marine significantly underbids other companies on multiple procurements to connect Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and Europe using Chinese state-backed underseas technology," Mr Pompeo said. "We can't allow that to continue. We call on all freedom-loving nations and companies to join the Clean Network."

The measures came as part of a stream of actions against China from the Donald Trump administration, including the ban or forced sale of the popular Chinese-owned video sharing app TikTok, whose fate in the US remains uncertain.

On Thursday, China said the US move to block Chinese apps went against market principles and had no factual basis.

In an interview with state news agency Xinhua, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described it as "a textbook case of bullying" and said the US had "no right" to set up the "Clean Network" programme.

China, in the meantime, continues to maintain what is often called its own "great firewall" which blocks many western online services including Twitter and Facebook.

In an e-mail this week, Dr Ian Bremmer, chief executive officer of The Eurasia Group, said the US-China relationship remains "mostly positive, not zero-sum".

"In the real economy, the United States and China are highly integrated," he said. But "the technology space is the exception, where the two countries are indeed decoupling".

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