The United States has cleared the way for sanctions on employees of telecom giant Huawei, expanding its pressure campaign on China.
Tensions have soared between the world’s two largest economies on a growing range of fronts, including Beijing’s clampdown on Hong Kong, with President Donald Trump on Tuesday ending the financial hub’s special trading privileges.
China shows no sign of backing down on Hong Kong, but the Trump administration has rejoiced in growing success at isolating Huawei, with Britain announcing a ban on the leading Chinese company.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would restrict US visas for employees of Huawei and other Chinese firms if they are involved in human rights abuses.
“Telecommunications companies around the world should consider themselves on notice: If they are doing business with Huawei, they are doing business with human rights abusers,” Pompeo said.
The United States accuses Huawei of working on the behest of Beijing and says that global security and personal data will be at risk if the company dominates development of the world’s fifth-generation internet.
Pompeo said that Huawei was already responsible for rights abuses by letting China snoop on dissidents and abetting Beijing’s sweeping surveillance in the western region of Xinjiang, where rights groups say more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims are incarcerated.
Offering affordable internet in the developing world and moving rapidly on 5G, Huawei has so far largely weathered US prohibitions and pressure – and reported double-digit revenue growth for the first half of the year.
The European Union has resisted blanket restrictions on Huawei. But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government agreed Tuesday to a phased ban after US sanctions blocked Huawei’s access to US chips.
Pompeo announced that he would visit Britain as well as Denmark starting Monday.
Robert O’Brien, the US national security advisor, brought up Huawei in his own talks with European counterparts in Paris, warning that the company could both spy on government secrets and sweep up vast amounts of personal data.
“Europe is awakening to the threat of China,” O’Brien told reporters.
“Imagine how a country like China could interfere with elections if they knew everything about every single person on earth,” he said.
Canada in 2018 acted on a US request and arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who faces extradition on charges of violating US sanctions on Iran.
Huawei rejects the US campaign and has called on Washington to show more evidence to prove the risks purportedly posed by the company.