US revokes licence of top Chinese telecoms company

Federal Communication Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel
Federal Communication Commission, led by Jessica Rosenworcel, has taken action against several Chinese telecoms firms

Washington has revoked the US licence of one of China’s biggest telecoms companies citing “national security” concerns.

China Telecom must stop providing services in America within 60 days.

Officials said the Chinese government’s control of the company gave it the opportunity “to access, store, disrupt, and/or misroute US communications”.

This in turn could allow it “to engage in espionage and other harmful activities against the US”, they said.

China Telecom, which has provided telecoms services in the US for nearly 20 years, called the decision “disappointing”.

“We plan to pursue all available options while continuing to serve our customers,” a statement said.

China Telecom is one of three companies that dominate China’s telecoms market. The firm has hundreds of millions of customers in 110 countries, with services ranging from broadband internet to mobile and landline telephone networks.

The decision comes hours after US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spoke to China’s Vice Premier Liu He about the state of the global economy.

The meeting had been seen as a sign of improving relations between the two superpowers, which have recently exchanged barbs over trade and Taiwan.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) warned it might shut down China Telecom Americas in April 2020, claiming the firm “is subject to exploitation, influence, and control by the Chinese government”.

It said the company was “highly likely to be forced to comply with Chinese government requests without… independent judicial oversight”.

It is the latest Chinese telecoms firm to be targeted by US officials over national security concerns. 

Last year, the FCC designated Huawei and ZTE as threats to communications networks – making it harder for US firms to buy equipment from them.

The FCC revoked China Mobile’s US licence in 2019, and is in process of doing so for two other state-backed firms – China Unicom Americas and Pacific Networks. 

In all cases, US officials cited risks that the Chinese government could use the companies to spy on America or harm national interests.

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