President Donald Trump issued an executive order Wednesday to help protect the United States against foreign adversaries that are taking advantage of technological vulnerabilities to threaten U.S. communications systems.
The order, which declared a national emergency in response to the threat, does not name specific countries or companies. But it appears to target Chinese tech giant Huawei, the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies. Huawei has long been seen as a front for spying by the Chinese military or security services, but the company has denied the allegations.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai applauded Trump’s executive order, saying it would safeguard the U.S. communications supply chain. “Given the threats presented by certain foreign companies’ equipment and services, this is a significant step toward securing America’s networks,” he said.
The Trump administration has been trying with only some success to persuade allied nations not to use Huawei equipment. Last year, Trump signed a bill that barred the U.S. government from using equipment from Huawei and China’s ZTE Corp.
The U.S., which is embroiled in an escalating trade war with China, also has sounded warnings about Huawei’s efforts to expand into Europe. The U.S. worries that China could use Huawei gear to gain access to private, commercial or other information that could compromise NATO and allied intelligence operations.
Early this year, the Justice Department unsealed criminal charges against Huawei, a top company executive and several subsidiaries, alleging the company stole trade secrets, misled banks about its business and violated U.S. sanctions. The sweeping indictments accuse the company of using extreme efforts to steal trade secrets from American businesses — including trying to take a piece of a robot from a T-Mobile lab.
The executive charged is Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in Canada in December. The U.S. is seeking to extradite her.