Tensions between Washington and Beijing took another turn for the worse yesterday as the US communications watchdog moved to eject two Chinese telcos from the US market.
The move to bar two of China’s biggest telecoms companies has been widely interpreted as a sign that the White House is not planning to put the gloves back on when it comes to China, with the Biden administration pushing ahead with measures launched under Donald Trump to protect the States’ digital infrastructure.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Wednesday that it had begun the process of revoking the authorisation of China Unicom Americas, Pacific Networks and its subsidiary ComNet to provide telecommunications services in the States.
The regulator cited fears that the two companies’ close ties with the Xi Jinping regime raised national security concerns.
The FCC had previously voiced worries regarding the vulnerability of subsidiaries of “Chinese state-owned entities to the exploitation, influence and control of the Chinese government” in April 2020, asking the two companies to provide any reason why their authorisations shouldn’t be revoked.
“Today, the commission determined that Pacific Networks and ComNet have failed at this stage to dispel serious concerns regarding their retention of section 214 authority in the United States,” the regulator said.
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Consequently, it has now put proceedings in motion to eject the two firms from a market they’ve been authorised to operate in for roughly two decades.
The FCC has turned up the heat against Chinese tech companies lately. In December, it opened a similar deauthorisation process against China Telecom, which has also been permitted to operate in the US for decades, Reuters reported.
This followed from a 2019 vote by the FCC to deny China Mobile the right to provide its services in the country, again citing fears that the Chinese government would meddle in its business and potentially conduct espionage against the US government.
Last week, the communications body named five Chinese companies as threats to national security in accordance with a 2019 law: Huawei Technologies Co, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corp, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co and Dahua Technology Co.
Not just telcos
Tensions between China and the US have been high in the aftermath of the massive zero-day exploits that compromised hundreds of thousands of on-site Microsoft Exchange Servers around the globe at the beginning of March.
The White House has so far refrained from publicly blaming the country behind the hacks, but has pledged to do so in the not too distant future.
For their part, Microsoft analysts attributed the initial hack with “high confidence” to Chinese state-sponsored cyberespionage group Hafnium.
Other cybercriminal groups have since exploited the same vulnerabilities used by Hafnium to launch ransomware attacks.
The Microsoft Exchange Server exploitation has added to the pressure felt by the Biden administration to respond to state-backed cyberattacks, especially since the massive SolarWinds attack of late 2020 was linked to Russia.
White House officials have since pledged to retaliate against Russia in the near term. There has been some unconfirmed speculation that recent Russian outages across several Kremlin-run websites and other internet platforms were caused by the US. Others believed that the Russian issues could have resulted from Russian authorities bungling their attempts to throttle Twitter locally after the social media platform did not remove content banned by the Putin regime.