The US Department of Justice said in a release yesterday that it recommended a ban on China Telecom operating in the United States, along with the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State, Commerce, and United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. China Telecom is state-owned, and its American subsidiary is its largest in the world, providing enterprise networking and Content Delivery Network (CDN) services, among others. These recommendations come as US–China relations get increasingly heated over issues like the COVID-19 pandemic and the US’s worries of China’s assertiveness in the 5G ecosystem.

Using an abbreviation of mainland China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), US agencies said their recommendations were based on China Telecom providing false statements and its susceptibility to influence by the Chinese government:

More specifically the recommendation was based on:

  • the evolving national security environment since 2007 and increased knowledge of the PRC’s role in malicious cyber activity targeting the United States;
  • concerns that China Telecom is vulnerable to exploitation, influence, and control by the PRC government;
  • inaccurate statements by China Telecom to U.S. government authorities about where China Telecom stored its U.S. records, raising questions about who has access to those records;
  • inaccurate public representations by China Telecom concerning its cybersecurity practices, which raise questions about China Telecom’s compliance with federal and state cybersecurity and privacy laws; and
  • the nature of China Telecom’s U.S. operations, which provide opportunities for PRC state-actors to engage in malicious cyber activity enabling economic espionage and disruption and misrouting of U.S. communications.

The United States government has been cautious on any Chinese internet-based relationship with the US, and has acted to sanction companies like ZTE and Huawei. Last year, FCC chair Ajit Pai moved to block China Mobile, another state-owned telco, from operating in the country. As recently as this week, the FCC approved a Google request to access an undersea cable network’s bandwidth — but only as long as the company agreed to avoid using the part of the cable network landing in Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China.