Oct 17, 2019

The Chinese national security threat is bigger than Huawei

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The consensus in Washington is increasingly clear: The security threat to the U.S. from Chinese firms is bigger than just Huawei.

Why it matters: If the administration views every Chinese company with suspicion, it could prolong the trade war and put the U.S. and China on a crash course toward a swift technological decoupling.

"The State Department and the White House and Congress are all saying it's not just Huawei, but all Chinese companies are part of China's military-civil fusion complex and are a national security threat."
— Samm Sacks, a China expert at New America

Context: In a September speech, Christopher Ford, an assistant secretary at the State Department, warned not just of Huawei — the telecom giant sanctioned by the administration in May — but also "its siblings."

  • "This narrative is creating a lot more pressure on Chinese companies," Sacks says.
  • While Huawei has grabbed most of the recent headlines, attention is now turning to other Chinese firms, like ByteDance, which runs the wildly popular TikTok video app.

Driving the news: The NBA's fallout with China over a general manager's tweet regarding the Hong Kong protests has raised concerns about the Chinese Communist Party's ability to enforce censorship on U.S. soil.

Activision Blizzard, an American gaming company that counts the Chinese tech giant Tencent as an investor, was criticized for suspending a Hong Kong-based gamer who supported the protest movement.

Moderators at TikTok — the short-form video-sharing app that is habit-forming among U.S. kids — are instructed to censor videos that mention topics that bother the Chinese Communist Party, including Tiananmen Square and Tibetan independence, according to leaked documents viewed by the Guardian.

  • The Guardian report prompted Sen. Marco Rubio to call for an investigation of the app.
  • TikTok announced Tuesday it had hired two former congressmen and was convening a panel of outside experts to review its content moderation policies.

Chinese firms are also prompting concerns about data privacy.

  • Experts say TikTok could become China's next big weapon in the race for personal data. "Think about all the data that TikTok has on American teenagers," says Sacks.
  • In May, the U.S. government pushed China's Kunlun to sell off the American dating app Grindr over similar worries about data privacy.

All the while, Washington's rhetoric and policies have grown more hawkish.

  • Congress has strengthened CFIUS, the Treasury Department's committee for reviewing foreign investments in the U.S.
  • "We understand that the program is staffing up in ways that suggest increased scrutiny is the new norm for the foreseeable future," says Doug Barry of the U.S.-China Business Council.

But, but, but: A heavy-handed approach to Chinese firms has a host of consequences.

  • "No one should take national security lightly, but the real risk here is government overreach," Barry says.
  • The government risks making U.S. companies less competitive in the international market by prohibiting them from selling products to Chinese companies — and pushing those companies to buy the same goods from Japan or South Korea, Barry says.
  • A true decoupling that gives the U.S. no visibility into technological advancement in China could be "really dangerous," says Sacks.
  • "Gene-editing? AI? These are technologies that are going to fundamentally change society, and if China and the U.S. go down completely different paths here, there could be dire consequences for humanity," says Sacks.

Go deeper: How Huawei is weathering U.S. sanctions

Go deeper

Trumpworld's plan to brand Biden

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP

Trump's advisers relish the contrast between his public appearances and Joe Biden's lack thereof. The former vice president, following the guidance of public experts, has eschewed public events and stayed home for months now. Trump, meanwhile, is out and about — masks be damned.

What we're hearing: Watch for plenty more mask-free outings from Trump, hyping the reopening of the economy and avoiding discussions of social distancing and death counts.

Scoop: Inside the secret talks to overhaul the GOP platform

Jared Kushner. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

For the past six months, top Trump campaign officials, reporting to Jared Kushner, have been working on a radical overhaul of the Republican Party platform.

Driving the news: The Trump campaign's Bill Stepien has been leading the process, working with campaign colleagues and the Republican National Committee. As with all significant campaign matters, they've been reporting back to Kushner.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 5,370,893 — Total deaths: 343,617 — Total recoveries — 2,149,407Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2:20 p.m. ET: 1,635,192 — Total deaths: 97,495 — Total recoveries: 361,239 — Total tested: 13,784,786Map.
  3. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  4. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  5. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  6. World: Health officials report first death in Gaza StripCoronavirus testing is virtually nonexistent in some poor countries — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  7. 1 🏀 thing: NBA in early talks to restart season at Disney World.
  8. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy