US President Donald Trump has moved to ban American telecom firms from installing foreign-made equipment that could pose a threat to national security, White House officials said, stepping up a battle against China by effectively barring sales by Huawei, the countrys leading networking company.
On Wednesday, Trump issued an executive order instructing Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, to ban transactions "posing an unacceptable risk" but did not single out any nation or company, The New York Times reported.
The order came amid an escalating trade war between the US and China, with the two sides imposing hundreds of billions of dollars of tariffs. Trump has accused the Chinese government of unfair trade practices and announced increased tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese goods that went into force on May 10.
The executive order was "agnostic", White House officials said in a call with reporters, declining to single out China as the focus.
"This administration will do what it takes to keep America safe and prosperous and to protect America from foreign adversaries" targeting vulnerabilities in American communications infrastructure, White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.
But in a clear strike against Huawei, the Commerce Department separately announced on Wednesday that it had placed the company and its dozens of affiliates on a list of firms deemed a risk to national security.
The listing will prevent it from buying American parts and technologies without seeking US government approval.
"This will prevent American technology from being used by foreign owned entities in ways that potentially undermine US national security or foreign policy interests," Ross said in a statement.
The Commerce Department will also write the rules for reviewing transactions that fall under the executive order's ban over the next 150 days, according to administration officials.
The Department said it would work across the administration on the new rules, consulting with the Attorney General, Treasury secretary and other agency heads.
The order, which applies only to future transactions, however did not detail how the Department will define foreign adversaries and establish criteria to ban companies from selling equipment to the US, reports The New York Times.
The executive action also did not address concerns by rural carriers that the order would hit them particularly hard. Some of them rely on equipment that already contains parts by Huawei and other Chinese companies.
The development comes as American officials have warned allies for months that the US would stop sharing intelligence if they use Huawei and other Chinese technology to build the core of their fifth-generation, or 5G, networks.
The networks promise not only faster cellular service, but also the connection of billions of "Internet of Things" devices, such as autonomous cars, security cameras and industrial equipment, to a new Internet architecture.
Pentagon and American intelligence officials have warned that Chinese firms will be able to control the networks and have expressed concerns not only that secure messages could be intercepted or secretly diverted to China, but that the Chinese authorities could order Huawei to shut down the networks during any conflict, disrupting American infrastructure as diverse as gas pipelines and cellphone networks.
Huawei has denied those charges.
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