China Unicom Latest To Be Banned Over National Security

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week officially ended “the ability of China Unicom (Americas) Operations Limited to provide domestic interstate and international telecommunications services within the United States.”

The FCC made the announcement last Thursday, and gives it 60 days to discontinue providing “domestic interstate and international telecommunications services within the United States.”

It comes after the former head of the FCC Ajit Pai in January 2021 warned of the ongoing threat posed by China to US telecoms networks.

National security

The US under former President Trump had blacklisted Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE over national security concerns, making it harder for US firms to do business with them.

The FCC revoked China Mobile’s US licence in 2019.

Other Chinese firms designated as threats to national security include Hytera Communications, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co and Dahua Technology Co.

Then in March 2021, just three months after being sworn into office, the administration of President Joe Biden sent a clear signal to Chinese authorities that the US stance against it was unlikely to change.

The FCC began efforts to revoke US operating licences for three Chinese firms, namely China Unicom Americas, as well as Pacific Networks and its wholly-owned subsidiary ComNet.

Now the FCC has confirmed that it has revoked the US licence of China Unicom.

The US regulator is thought to be still in process of doing the same for two other state-backed firms – Pacific Networks and ComNet.

“The Order on Revocation directs China Unicom Americas to discontinue any domestic or international services that it provides pursuant to its section 214 authority within sixty days following the release of the Order,” said the FCC.

It made clear the decision was based on national security grounds.

“Based on input from Executive Branch agencies, thorough review of the company’s responses in this proceeding, the public record, and the FCC’s public interest analysis under the law, the Commission finds that today’s action safeguards the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure from potential security threats,” the FCC stated.

No mitigation

“In March 2021, the Commission found that China Unicom Americas had failed to dispel serious concerns regarding its retention of its authority to provide telecommunications services in the United States,” it said. “The Commission thus adopted procedures that allowed for China Unicom Americas, the Executive Branch agencies, and the public to present any remaining arguments or evidence in the matter.”

The FCC said it had pulled the plug because it found that “China Unicom Americas is a US subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned enterprise, which it said is subject to exploitation, influence, and control by the Chinese government and is highly likely to be forced to comply with Chinese government requests without sufficient legal procedures subject to independent judicial oversight.”

Secondly the FCC cited the changed national security environment with respect to China since the Commission authorised China Unicom Americas to provide telecommunications services in the United States two decades ago.

The US regulator finds that “China Unicom Americas’ ownership and control by the Chinese government raise significant national security and law enforcement risks by providing opportunities for China Unicom Americas, its parent entities, and the Chinese government to access, store, disrupt, and/or misroute U.S. communications, which in turn allow them to engage in espionage and other harmful activities against the United States.”

Thirdly the FCC found that “China Unicom Americas’ conduct and representations to the Commission and Congress demonstrate a lack of candor, trustworthiness, and reliability that erodes the baseline level of trust that the Commission and other US government agencies require of telecommunications carriers given the critical nature of the provision of telecommunications service in the United States.”

The FCC said that any mitigation would not address these significant national security and law enforcement concerns.

It pointed out that China Unicom has also been removed from the New York Stock Exchange, as has China Mobile and China Telecom.

In October the FCC also revoked the US licence of one of China’s biggest telecoms companies, China Telecom, over national security concerns.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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