China's greatest tech threat to America is posed by Huawei Technologies, the world's largest manufacturer of communications networking gear. China, with Huawei's control of 5G — the fifth generation of wireless communication — will be in a position in peacetime to spy and remotely manipulate the world's smartphones, cars, pacemakers, thermostats, and a multitude of other devices. In times of war, Beijing could paralyze critical infrastructure. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
On February 11, the Justice Department asked the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to put on hold its review of the Trump-era ban on WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging app.
This request came a day after the administration asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for a similar hold on the case considering the Trump ban on the Chinese mobile video-sharing platform TikTok.
Lower U.S. courts had previously enjoined the enforcement of the Trump bans. WeChat users and TikTok had sued to block enforcement. Trump banned the apps because they were, he correctly contended, collecting "vast swaths" of data and censoring Americans.
The Justice Department's motion in the TikTok case raised the possibility that the Biden administration, after its review of the situation, will drop the ban on the app. "A review of the prohibitions at issue here may narrow the issues presented or eliminate the need for this Court's review entirely," stated Casen Ross, a Justice Department lawyer.
TikTok's threat to the U.S. goes well beyond the surreptitious collection of data and censorship, however. China has used the app's algorithm to inflame American public opinion.
Engineers working for Douyin, TikTok's sister site in China, manage TikTok's algorithms, including those determining which videos are shown to users. That access allows the Chinese government to "boost the signal," in other words, to curate content to get people to act in certain ways. TikTok is addictive because, through the world's most sophisticated commercially available artificial intelligence software, it knows its users' preferences.
That makes the app especially handy for those with malicious designs. Radio Free Asia reported last August that a People's Liberation Army intelligence unit, working out of China's now-closed consulate in Houston, Texas, was using big data to identify Americans likely to participate in Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests and then created and sent them "tailor-made" TikTok videos on how to organize riots.
The Justice Department's TikTok and WeChat motions fit into a distressing pattern of Biden taking down Trump-era measures designed to protect America from China. The President's January 20 executive order ended — indefensibly — Trump's May 1, 2020 ban on the purchase of Chinese-made equipment for the electric grid. Biden's Treasury Department has also delayed for months a November 2020 ban on Americans investing in companies linked to China's People's Liberation Army.
Although new White House occupants have always reviewed the policies of predecessors, Biden should have retained the Trump-era protections while he looked at those actions. China's Communist Party has been using its companies
-- especially its tech businesses — to attack the United States. President Biden, in the interim, is leaving America defenseless.
China's tech threat to America does not end with WeChat and TikTok. There is no greater danger than that posed by Huawei Technologies, the world's largest manufacturer of communications networking gear.
The Trump administration moved hard against the company. "We have prohibited subsidized Huawei gear from our networks, and we have worked with our allies abroad to ensure that the Communist Party's spy gear is not welcome in their networks either," the senior Republican commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, Brendan Carr, said to Gatestone.
Furthermore, Trump added the company and dozens of its subsidiaries and affiliates to the Commerce Department's Entity List beginning in May 2019. The designations meant that no American business, without prior approval from the department's Bureau of Industry and Security, was allowed to sell or license to Huawei or listed organizations products and technology covered by the U.S. Export Administration Regulations.
The Trump administration, in its last days, adopted an especially strict posture, issuing "intent to deny" notices for applications for licenses to sell to Huawei. The administration also said it would revoke existing licenses. Chipmaker Intel received one of the revocation notices.
Companies are now hoping that Biden's Commerce Department will reverse Trump-era blocks on sales to Huawei. The administration just granted 90-day extensions to companies to appeal the Trump-era actions.
Biden's Commerce Secretary pick, Gina Raimondo, does not inspire confidence. During her confirmation hearing, she refused to say she would keep Huawei on the Entity List. Then in the face of pressure she backed down, issuing a statement referring to the Entity List and the Military End User List, that she had "no reason to believe that entities on those lists should not be there."
Raimondo's waffling has apparently given Huawei encouragement. Founder Ren Zhengfei on February 9 said he would welcome the opportunity to talk to President Joe Biden. "Our company does not have the energy to be involved in this political whirlpool," he told a roundtable in China. "We hope that the U.S. government can have a more open policy for the benefit of American companies and the development of the U.S. economy."
Huawei poses a mortal threat to the U.S. economy. Beijing has been using the company for malign purposes, such as stealing data. For instance, from 2012 to 2017 Beijing, through Huawei servers, surreptitiously downloaded information from the headquarters of the Beijing-donated and Chinese-built headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Huawei is Beijing's "mechanism for spying, " as Senator Marsha Blackburn told Fox News in July 2019.
China, with control of 5G — the fifth generation of wireless communication — will be in a position in peacetime to spy and remotely manipulate the world's smartphones, cars, pacemakers, thermostats, and a multitude of other devices connected to what is referred to as the "Internet of Things." In times of war, Beijing could paralyze critical infrastructure.
Huawei, built on stolen U.S. technology, is fast becoming the world's 5G provider. The Chinese party-state has been subsidizing the sale of Huawei's equipment and otherwise promoting its products ever since Ren founded the company in 1987.
There are various strategies for meeting China's 5G challenge, but the most effective one is to cripple Huawei. The Trump administration took steps to do so, but now the Biden administration looks as if it is on the verge of propping the company up. America should be putting Huawei out of business, not supporting its efforts to injure U.S. allies, partners, and friends, not to mention America itself.
"Beijing is looking for any signs that the new administration will return to the weak and timid approach of the past," said Carr. "Any backsliding or softening of our approach to Huawei would be a monumental mistake, leaving Americans less safe and our networks less secure."
"I am not yet convinced that Biden is hitting the chicken switch on China," Brandon Weichert of The Weichert Report told Gatestone. "I do, however, think he's going to embrace the age-old Washington concept of 'strategic ambiguity' and 'strategic patience' when dealing with China."
The problem with the Biden approach is that there is not a moment to lose. "Sadly, I fear that by the time the Biden team comes around to the fact that Trump was right about China, the United States will have given up its leverage and China will have moved far beyond the point in which American sanctions can reliably work," Weichert, also the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, noted. "At that point, Chinese tech firms will have been so enmeshed in the world system, propagating new technology and products, that it will be nearly impossible to decouple, the ultimate objective of Trump-era sanctions against China."
Beijing is using its tech companies to attack America. So, President Biden, what will you do to protect us?
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China, a Gatestone Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow, and a member of its Advisory Board.