Republican lawmakers press Biden Commerce nominee on Huawei stance

Key Points
  • GOP Senators Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse and Tom Cotton are asking Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo to clarify if she would remove Huawei from a trade blacklist.
  • "The company has not changed alongside the U.S. presidency," the senators warned in a letter released Friday.
Gina Raimondo, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be secretary of Commerce, speaks during an event to announce members of Biden's economics and jobs team at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, January 8, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Three China hardliners in the Senate are calling on President Joe Biden's nominee to head the Commerce Department to clarify if she would remove China's telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies from a trade blacklist under any circumstances.

The letter from Republican Senators Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse and Tom Cotton comes after the nominee, Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo, sparked outrage among China hawks when she vowed to protect U.S. telecommunications networks from Chinese companies but declined to commit to keeping Huawei on the list.

"We ask that you respond in writing with your view of whether you foresee any scenario in which you would, if confirmed as Secretary,...remove Huawei...from the Entity List," or relax rules governing its access to 5G technology, the Senators wrote in the letter, released Friday.

"The company has not changed alongside the U.S. presidency," they warned.

The letter is a sign of growing pressure from Capitol Hill for President Joe Biden to take a hard line on Beijing. The Biden team generally steered clear of clear policy commitments on China before taking office earlier this month, but it has promised to maintain a tough stance while employing a more a strategic, multilateral approach.

Biden's predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, placed Huawei on a trade blacklist in May 2019 and led a global campaign to convince allies to exclude it from their 5G networks.

Washington has accused the company of being capable of spying on customers, as well as intellectual property theft and sanctions violations. Huawei has denied wrongdoing.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the administration will work to safeguard American telecoms networks from "untrusted vendors" like Huawei Technologies Co Ltd that threaten national security. This offered some insight into its plans for China's top telecoms equipment company, long in Washington's crosshairs.

But the comments were not enough to assuage the three Senators, who raised the specter of opposition to other Commerce Department nominees if they do not commit to a tough enough technology policy against Beijing.

"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 (Chinese) access to U.S. technology that may advance (their) ambitions that are dangerous to U.S. interests," they wrote. "If these nominees do not make clear that they will adhere to these broad concerns and objectives, they may face substantial opposition from Congress," they added.