The US won’t let China Mobile operate in the country, citing risk to national securityJuly 3, 2018
The US government has declared another major Chinese telecom company a possible “risk to national security”: China Mobile. Yesterday, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued a statement advising the Federal Communications Commission not to allow China Mobile, which is the world’s third biggest carrier after AT&T and Verizon, to operate in the United States.
China Mobile first applied to the FCC for permission to provide US telecom services in 2011 and its application has been pending ever since. In 2013, China Mobile’s counsel wrote a letter to the FCC, requesting permission, stating “the extreme delay in granting the application is causing significant and unwarranted harm to China Mobile USA’s business operations.”
In the past few months, the US government has stepped up its measures against Chinese tech companies, most notably Huawei and ZTE. The ongoing clashes between the two countries include the White House pressuring major carriers to back out of deals to carry Huawei devices in the US and banning US exports to ZTE. Today, the US Commerce Department temporarily lifted part of the ban for ZTE until August 1st, and it might be fully lifted afterward if ZTE is in compliance with the government’s requirements.
The NTIA appears the most concerned that China Mobile is mostly owned (74 percent at the time it applied in 2011) by the Chinese government. Any company where a foreign government has more than a 10 percent stake must be scrutinized, according to NTIA.
“China Mobile is vulnerable to exploitation, influence, and control by the Chinese government,” the filing states, adding, “Authorization poses an unacceptable risk to US national security and law enforcement and the risk can be expected to increase over time.” The government points to China’s “record of intelligence activities and economic espionage targeting the United States” and China Mobile’s huge size and considerable resources. It envisions that the telecom company could become a pawn used for “activities involving cyber intrusions and attacks.”
Even if China Mobile uses secure hardware, which it has assured the US government that it does, “the risk China Mobile would pose as operator of that equipment” would effectively nullify the hardware’s security, the filing claims. US authorities also judged that if they were to uncover security breaches from the Chinese government, the harm caused would be too much to undo. Giving away national security or law enforcement requests or accessing customer data without permission could “create irreparable damage to US national security.”
We’ve reached out to the US government and China Mobile for comment.