A decision by the United States to ban China Telecom from operating in the country on national security concerns is “malicious suppression”, Beijing said Thursday, warning it would damage a tentative thaw in relations.
Tensions are high between the world’s two biggest economies on a plethora of fronts, including trade, human rights, Taiwan and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this week Washington ordered China Telecom Americas to discontinue its services within 60 days — ending nearly two decades of operations in the country and piling further strain on relations between the superpowers.
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said China Telecom’s “ownership and control by the Chinese government raise significant national security and law enforcement risks”.
The FCC added that this gave Beijing opportunities “to access, store, disrupt, and/or misroute US communications,” which in turn allowed them to engage in espionage and other harmful activities against the US.
But Beijing rejected the move as a “generalisation of the concept of national security, abuse of national power and malicious suppression of a Chinese company without basis in facts”.
Commerce ministry spokeswoman Shu Yuting told a press briefing that China’s economic and trade team has “lodged solemn representations” with the United States and that Beijing is seriously concerned by the ban.
In this file photo, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during the daily press briefing on May 7, 2021, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
The latest move in the long-running standoff comes as US President Joe Biden presses ahead with a hardline trade policy against Beijing broadly in line with that of his predecessor Donald Trump, whose bombastic approach sent tensions soaring.
The announcement also came hours after Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen held trade discussions via video call that Beijing described as “pragmatic, candid and constructive”.
But Shu said Thursday that the latest FCC announcement from Washington had “undermined the atmosphere of cooperation” between the sides, vowing that Beijing would safeguard the “rights and interests” of its enterprises.
China Telecom is China’s largest fixed-line operator, but it has faced trouble in the United States for years, particularly during Trump’s presidency as the former president repeatedly clashed with Beijing over trade.
The company was delisted by the New York Stock Exchange in January along with fellow state-owned telecoms firms China Mobile and China Unicom.
China Telecom spokesman Ge Yu told AFP that the FCC’s decision was “disappointing”.
US regulators have previously taken action against other Chinese firms, notably private telecoms giant Huawei.
Trump’s White House in 2018 began an aggressive campaign to short-circuit Huawei’s global ambitions, cutting it off from key components and banning it from using Google’s Android services.