Donald Trump has signed an executive order declaring a national emergency and barring US companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms officials say pose a national security risk, paving the way for a ban on doing business with China’s Huawei Technologies Co.
The executive order invokes the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the president the authority to regulate commerce in response to a national emergency that threatens the US. The order directs the commerce department, working with other government agencies, to draw up a plan for enforcement within 150 days.
The order, which has been under review for more than a year, is aimed at protecting the supply chain from “foreign adversaries to the nation’s information and communications technology and services supply chain”, said the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross.
“Under President Trump’s leadership, Americans will be able to trust that our data and infrastructure are secure,” he said.
The order does not specifically name any country or company, but US officials have previously labeled Huawei a “threat” and lobbied allies not to use Huawei network equipment in next-generation 5G networks.
The executive order comes at a delicate time in relations between China and the US as the world’s two largest economies ratchet up tariffs in a battle over what US officials call China’s unfair trade practices.
Talks between Washington and Beijing have come grinding to a halt in recent days, ratcheting up volatility amid fears of a global trade war.
Beijing announced plans this week to increase tariffs on nearly $60bn worth of US imports beginning on 1 June, in what the Chinese government said was a retaliatory move after the Trump administration imposed tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods.
Trump is expected to meet with China’s president, Xi Jinping, next month in Japan.
Washington believes equipment made by Huawei could be used by the Chinese state to spy. Huawei has vehemently denied the allegations.
Ren Zhengfei, the company’s founder and CEO, claimed in a February interview that Huawei would reject any efforts to gather intelligence through its products even if the Chinese government required it to do so.
“We never participate in espionage and we do not allow any of our employees to do any act like that. And we absolutely never install backdoors,” Zhengfei said in an interview with CBS News.
The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said the order was aimed at stopping transactions that posed an “an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States”.
The United States has been pushing other countries not to use Huawei’s equipment in next-generation 5G networks that it calls “untrustworthy”. In August, Trump signed a bill that barred the US government from using equipment from Huawei and another Chinese provider, ZTE Corp.
The Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai, who has called Huawei a threat to US security, said on Wednesday: “Given the threats presented by certain foreign companies’ equipment and services, this is a significant step toward securing America’s networks.”