Donald Trump ramps up battle against Chinese telecom giant Huawei

US officials have been trying to persuade allies not to allow China a role in building next-generation 5G mobile networks. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2019
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Donald Trump ramps up battle against Chinese telecom giant Huawei

  • ‘This administration will do what it takes to keep America safe and prosperous and to protect America from foreign adversaries’
  • US officials have been trying to persuade allies not to allow China a role in building next-generation 5G mobile networks

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump stepped up his battle against Huawei Wednesday, effectively barring the Chinese telecom giant from the US market and adding it to a blacklist restricting US sales to the firm amid an escalating trade war with Beijing.
An executive order signed by the president prohibits purchase or use of equipment from companies that pose “an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of United States persons.”
“This administration will do what it takes to keep America safe and prosperous and to protect America from foreign adversaries,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
A senior White House official insisted that no particular country or company was targeted in the “company- and country-agnostic” declaration.
However, the measure — announced just as a US-China trade war deepens — is widely seen as prompted by already deep concerns over an alleged spying threat from Huawei.
“Restricting Huawei from doing business in the US will not make the US more secure or stronger; instead, this will only serve to limit the US to inferior yet more expensive alternatives,” Huawei said in a statement.
“In addition, unreasonable restrictions will infringe upon Huawei’s rights and raise other serious legal issues,” it said.
The Commerce Department followed up with a more direct hit on the tech giant, adding it to a blacklist that will make it much harder for the firm to use crucial US components in its array of phones, telecom gear, databases and other electronics.
Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) said it would add Huawei and its affiliates to its “entity list” over alleged Iran sanctions violations.
The listing requires US firms to get a license from BIS for the sale or transfer of American technology to a company or person on the list.
“A license may be denied if the sale or transfer would harm US national security or foreign policy interests,” a Commerce Department statement said.
“This will prevent American technology from being used by foreign-owned entities in ways that potentially undermine US national security or foreign policy interests,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.
Huawei did not immediately comment on the blacklisting.
US officials have been trying to persuade allies not to allow China a role in building next-generation 5G mobile networks, warning that doing so would result in restrictions on sharing of information with the United States.
US government agencies are already banned from buying equipment from Huawei, a rapidly expanding leader in the 5G technology.
Beijing was already furious about US moves to limit use of equipment from Chinese firms including Huawei and another company ZTE.
“For some time, the United States has abused its national power to deliberately discredit and suppress by any means specific Chinese enterprises, which is neither honorable nor fair,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said ahead of Trump’s executive order.
“We urge the US side to stop the unreasonable suppression of Chinese enterprises on the pretext of national security and to provide a fair and non-discriminatory environment,” the spokesman said.
The US portrayal of Huawei as a national security danger dovetails with Washington’s wider complaint that Chinese companies are unfairly protected by the state, making fair trade impossible.
The move also threatens to further flare trade tensions just days after the US more than doubled tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports, which was met with a retaliation in kind by Beijing.
Washington and some European allies fear that Chinese economic expansion, particularly in the Belt and Road global infrastructure program, is part of a bid for geopolitical dominance.
Amid those worries, Huawei is portrayed as a Trojan horse that could leverage its ultra-rapid telecoms technology into a Chinese government spy network reaching deep into American society and business fields.
“Chinese telecom companies like Huawei effectively serve as an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist Party,” Senator Cotton said after Trump’s emergency declaration.
“The administration is right to restrict the use of their products.”
So far, the US campaign to lobby other countries to turn their backs on Huawei has had mixed results.
Even Britain, one of Washington’s closest allies, is mired in debate over whether to follow the US lead or allow Huawei to develop the 5G networks.
On Tuesday, the chairman of the company, Liang Hua, visited London to insist that Huawei will “commit ourselves, to commit our equipment to meeting the no-spy, no back-door standards.”


Bitcoin craze hits Iran as US sanctions squeeze weak economy

Updated 18 July 2019
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Bitcoin craze hits Iran as US sanctions squeeze weak economy

  • Some Iranian officials worry that “mining” is abusing the subsidized electricity
  • Iranian Bitcoin miners are purchasing more affordable Chinese ready-made computers

TEHRAN: Iranians feeling the squeeze from US sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s ailing economy are increasingly turning to such digital currencies as Bitcoin to make money, prompting alarm in and out of the country.
In Iran, some government officials worry that the energy-hungry process of “mining” Bitcoin is abusing Iran’s system of subsidized electricity; in the United States, some observers have warned that cryptocurrencies could be used to bypass the Trump administration’s sanctions targeting Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The Bitcoin craze has made the front pages of Iranian newspapers and been discussed by some of the country’s top ayatollahs, and there have been televised police raids on hidden computer farms set up to bring in money by “mining” the currency.
Like other digital currencies, Bitcoin is an alternative to money printed by sovereign governments around the world. Unlike those bills, however, cryptocurrencies are not controlled by a central bank. Bitcoin and other digital currencies like it trade globally in highly speculative markets without any backing from a physical entity.
As a result, computers around the world “mine” the data, meaning they use highly complex algorithms to verify transactions. The verified transactions, called blocks, are then added to a public record, known as the blockchain. Any time “miners” add a new block to the blockchain, they are rewarded with a payment in bitcoins.
To work, the expensive specialized computers require a lot of electricity to power their processors and to keep them cool. In Iran, “miners” have an edge because electricity is cheap thanks to longtime government subsidies. “Miners” also buy cheaper Chinese ready-made computers to do the work.
But the constant raids and authorities’ conflicting statements on the issue have Bitcoin “miners” in Iran incredibly leery of being identified. Those contacted by The Associated Press refused to speak about their work or to say how much they earn from their “mining.”
But they acknowledge they do this to make some money at a time when Iran’s currency, the rial, tumbled from 32,000 rials to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear deal, to around 120,000 rials to $1 now.
“It is clear that here has turned into a heaven for ‘miners,’” Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s minister for information and communications technology, recently told AP in an interview. “The business of ‘mining’ is not forbidden in law but the government and the Central Bank have ordered the Customs Bureau to ban the import of (mining machines) until new regulations are introduced.”
Ali Bakhshi, the head of the Iran Electrical Industry Syndicate, said earlier this month that the country’s Energy Ministry likely would boost costs for Bitcoin “miners” to 7 cents for each kilowatt of electricity they consume, a massive increase from the current half-cent but still almost half the cost of electricity in the United States, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
Still, there are concerns, especially among Iran’s religious leaders, that people might try to circumvent paying extra for the electricity as well as using digital currency to hide or move money illicitly.
Tabnak, a hard-line news website associated with a former commander of the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, quoted three ayatollahs describing Bitcoin as either problematic or “haram,” meaning forbidden. Islam prescribes strict rules about finance.
But Jahromi said clerics became more receptive to the idea after his staff briefed them that Bitcoin had a value in the real world, which is required under Islamic finance. Islamic finance also prohibits gambling, the payment of interest and misleading others.
“Some of our top clerics have issued fatwas that say Bitcoin is money without a reserve, that it is rejected by Islamic and cybercurrencies are haram,” Jahromi said. “When we explain to them this is not a currency but an asset, they change their mind.”
Iran has tried to keep its economic situation in check by controlling foreign currency rates and cutting down on those moving their money from the rial to other currencies, including Bitcoin. Last year, the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Mohammad Reza Pour-Ebrahimi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s economic commission, as suggesting that about $2.5 billion left Iran through digital currency purchases. He did not elaborate and authorities have not discussed it since.
The US, meanwhile, has been keeping a close watch on Iranians holding bitcoins. In November, a federal grand jury in Newark, New Jersey, accused two Iranian men of hacking and holding hostage computer systems of over 200 American entities to extort them for Bitcoin, including the cities of Newark and Atlanta.
“As Iran becomes increasingly isolated and desperate for access to US dollars, it is vital that virtual currency exchanges, peer-to-peer exchangers and other providers of digital currency services harden their networks against these illicit schemes,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Not so, said Jahromi.
“Cybercurrencies are effective in bypassing sanctions when it comes to small transactions, but we do not see any special impact in them as far as mega-transactions are concerned,” he said. “We cannot use them to go around international monetary mechanisms.”