Republican Senators Question Commerce Nominee’s Commitment to Keep Up Huawei Pressure 

Olya Detry/

In a letter, senators hinted at political trouble if department nominees don’t maintain trade policies restricting Huawei. 

A group of prominent Republican senators is calling on President Joe Biden’s Commerce Department nominee to keep Chinese telecommunications company Huawei on trade blacklists over national security concerns. 

Following her testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee, Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo a letter emphasizing they want the Trump administration’s policies blocking Huawei from U.S. markets to carry over into the new administration. The letter suggested any commerce nominee they deem to lack adequate anti-Huawei resolve may face “substantial opposition from Congress.” 

The letter, dated Jan. 29, asks Raimondo, Biden’s Commerce Secretary nominee, for a response in writing to one question: whether she could conceive of any scenario under which she, if confirmed as secretary, would remove Huawei or any of its spin-offs and subsidiaries from the Bureau of Industry and Security’s Entity List or “permit any relaxation of the Foreign Direct Product Rule as it relates to 5g technology.” 

The Entity List restricts companies from purchasing or otherwise integrating U.S. technologies without a waiver. The letter suggests Raimondo’s testimony regarding Huawei and security during her confirmation hearing last Tuesday was not stringent enough. 

Raimondo stated she would “use the full toolkit” at her disposal to protect American networks, such as emerging 5G networks, from Chinese interference or backdoor influence. But later in the hearing, in response to questions from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Raimondo declined to commit to keeping Huawei on the Entity List. 

“I will commit that, should I be confirmed, I will review the policy, consult with you, consult with industry, consult with our allies, and make an assessment as to what is best for American national and economic security,” Raimondo said. 

Hearing this response, Cruz, without citing specific evidence, indicated he has heard “chatter” that the Biden administration is contemplating “going easy on China” by removing some companies from the entities list. In the letter, the senators also suggested the Chinese Communist Party is testing the Biden administration to determine whether it intends to maintain economic pressures on Huawei. 

The senators’ letter insists a review of Huawei would be useful only if the end result is strengthened restrictions against the company. It also suggests Raimondo and the Biden administration may face a struggle on the Hill should the resolve of nominees for Commerce positions to stake a firm position against Huawei come under question. 

“We appreciate your expressed willingness to employ the full toolkit of the Department of Commerce to address the challenges from the [People’s Republic of China],” the letter reads. “It is equally imperative that all nominees to the Department of Commerce follow your leadership in recognizing both the dangers of the [Chinese Communist Party] and the need to obstruct or squeeze PRC access to U.S. technology that may advance CCP ambitions that are dangerous to U.S. interests. If these nominees do not make clear that they will adhere to these broad concerns and objectives, they may face substantial opposition from Congress.”

Agencies across the federal government have started to raise awareness of the security threats posed by Huawei and other Chinese companies like ZTE and Hikvision, as well as take action against them. In December, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted an order to create a fund for reimbursing smaller telecommunications operators ripping and replacing technology from Huawei and similar companies. 

In its annual report summarizing the biggest challenges, the Pentagon faces, the Defense Department Inspector General said Huawei and ZTE could become direct threats to DOD operations and networks should China dominate the globe when it comes to 5G technologies. 

A major supply chain rule that took effect in August also banned government contractors from using equipment from five Chinese companies including Huawei, ZTE and their subsidiaries and affiliates as part of their work for the federal government, effectively requiring contractors to excise the companies from their supply chains.