China telecom companies present within the U.S. infrastructure are facing a full-court press from the U.S. government, which may result in their removal from the U.S. infrastructure. Perhaps surprising to some, many telecom sector organizations and conglomerates are not supportive of the removal, and note how the prohibitions on engagement with Chinese entities like Huawei also preclude collaboration in the international standards work.

White House Executive Order

In early April 2020, “Team Telecom” was adjusted by Executive Order and replaced by the “Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector.” “The primary objective of which shall be to assist the FCC in its public interest review of national security and law enforcement concerns that may be raised by foreign participation in the United States telecommunications services sector.”

Departments of Justice and Commerce

A few days later the Department of Justice published a recommendation that one of Huawei’s compatriot companies, China Telecom, be excluded from the United States as a national security threat. The U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), a part of the Department of Commerce, is reviewing the extension of the temporary general license (TGL) to Huawei Technologies and 114 of its non-U.S. affiliates on the Entity List. The BIS asked for comments on the impact a license renewal might have on a company or organization – given Huawei is present within the U.S. infrastructure.

While many of the comments provided to BIS were focused on removing the Chinese service provider from the U.S. infrastructure, there were some which welcomed the continued presence, including Hughes Network Systems and CTIA. The Global Business Alliance recommended the licenses be adjusted to allow for long term planning.

Federal Communications Commission

This was followed in late-April by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issuing “show cause” orders for a number of Chinese entities which are present within the U.S. infrastructure. Specifically ,the entities Pacific Networks, China Telecom Americas, China Unicom Americas, and ComNet were asked to “show cause” why the FCC should not initiate proceeding to revoke and terminate their licenses.

Then in early-May the Departments of State and Commerce discovered that there was a need to come up with a means to allow U.S. companies to engage with Huawei over the 5G standards – currently the prohibition to do business with Huawei precludes U.S. companies’ engagement. The draft rule is currently being reviewed by Commerce.

National Security Threat

John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security said, “The security of our government and professional communications, as well as of our most private data, depends on our use of trusted partners from nations that share our values and our aspirations for humanity.  Today’s action [April 9] is but our next step in ensuring the integrity of America’s telecommunications systems.”

Huawei has been the poster-child of Chinese national security threat posed by a telecom entity. In mid-September 2019, State published a report, “Huawei and its Sibling, the Chinese Tech Giants: National Security and Foreign Policy Implications.” The White House executive order, FCC, and BIS with their license review demonstrates that the administration is focused on using all agencies/departments to put pressure on Chinese telecom present within the U.S. infrastructure.

Should they stay or should they go?

If the former, how do we allow their presence and maintain national security? If the latter, how do we remove their presence without damaging our national infrastructure, especially rural infrastructure, where they are most prevalent? From this seat, it appears that an artist’s brush is needed in dealing with Chinese telecom presence in the U.S. –  not a painter’s broad brush.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of