Thursday 21 January 2021 10:21 am

Outgoing Trump official warns of China telecoms threat

A top official in the departing Trump administration has issued a stark warning over the threat of Chinese espionage to US telecoms networks and internet freedom.

Ajit Pai, who stepped down as chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week, said Beijing-backed spying was the biggest threat to national security facing regulators over the next four years.

Read more: NYSE reverts to original plan to delist Chinese telecoms firm

Pai warned there was a “wide array” of potential threats from China, including surveillance, economic espionage and potential hacks of networks in the US and around the world.

“There are a number of bad things that can happen when insecure equipment is used to handle sensitive information,” he told Reuters.

“The Chinese Communist Party has a very determined world view. They want to dominate this space and exert their will — even beyond their own borders.” 

He added: “That is a serious threat not just to internet freedom but to national security for us and for many of our allies.”

The Chinese foreign ministry last month said US claims about risks to national security were false.

Read more: Telecoms providers must beef up their cybersecurity for the 5G age

Pai was named FCC chair by former president Donald Trump in January 2017 and has led the body’s crackdown on Chinese telecoms giants such as Huawei and ZTE.

Newly-inaugurated US President Joe Biden has already set about dismantling some of Trump’s executive orders.

However, it remains unclear whether he will overturn the bans on US investment in certain Chinese companies. In total 44 companies have been subjected to restrictions amid allegations of links to Beijing.

Three Chinese telecoms firms have asked the New York Stock Exchange to review its decision to delist them in the wake of the investment bans.

Read more: Telecoms firms to face hefty fines under new Huawei laws

After flip-flopping over its decision, the bourse last month said it would remove China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom as a result of Trump’s executive order.

But in statements this week the companies asked the NYSE to reconsider, saying they had “complied strictly with the laws and regulations, market rules as well as regulatory requirements”.

Read more: BT profit drops a fifth but telecoms giant boosts guidance

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