BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Thursday slammed a decision by the US government to put telecom equipment giant Huawei on a blacklist and said it will take steps to protect its companies, in a further test of ties as the economic heavyweights clash over trade.
China is strongly against other countries imposing unilateral sanctions on Chinese entities, a Commerce Ministry spokesman said, stressing that the United States should avoid further damaging Sino-US trade relations.
The crackdown on Huawei came as US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would visit China soon for more trade talks. Hopes for a deal to end their trade war have been thrown into doubt after the world’s two biggest economies raised tariffs on each other’s goods in the past week.
The US Commerce Department said on Wednesday it was adding Huawei Technologies Co and 70 affiliates to its so-called “Entity List” in a move that bans the Chinese company from acquiring components and technology from US firms without prior US government approval.
President Donald Trump separately on Wednesday signed an executive order barring US firms from using telecom equipment made by companies deemed to pose a national security risk.
The order did not specifically identify any country or company, but US officials have previously labelled Huawei a “threat” and lobbied allies not to use Huawei network equipment in next-generation 5G networks.
“China has emphasised many times that the concept of national security should not be abused, and that it should not be used as a tool for trade protectionism,” Gao Feng, spokesman at the Chinese commerce ministry, told reporters.
“China will take all the necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese firms.”
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Trump backed the decision to “prevent American technology from being used by foreign-owned entities in ways that potentially undermine U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.”
In response, Huawei, which denies its products pose a security threat, said it was “ready and willing to engage with the US government and come up with effective measures to ensure product security.”
It said restricting Huawei from doing business in the United States would “limit the US to inferior yet more expensive alternatives, leaving the US lagging behind in 5G deployment and eventually harming the interests of US companies and consumers.”
Putting constraints on Huawei’s supply chain could also delay its procurement of components and parts needed to help Chinese telecom operators roll out 5G in China, Jefferies wrote in a note, unless Beijing manages to negotiate with Washington to help Huawei get out of “jail”.
“Assuming the US export ban on Huawei remains unresolved for the next 12-24 months, we highly doubt if China would stick to its timetable of building 5G aggressively,” the US brokerage wrote.
The sanctions on Huawei were also likely to have ramifications beyond the company itself, rattling the global tech supply chain, analysts said.
China is also angry about Canada’s arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in December. Meng faces extradition to the United States on charges that she conspired to defraud global banks about Huawei’s relationship with a company operating in Iran.
She and the company deny the charges.
Also on Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry announced the formal arrest of two Canadian citizens who have been detained shortly after Meng’s arrest.
While Canada says China has made no specific link between the detentions of the two men and Meng’s arrest, experts and former diplomats say they have no doubt it is using their cases to pressure Canada.
Trump had softened his trade rhetoric on Tuesday and insisted talks had not collapsed. He also announced plans to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G20 summit in Japan late next month.
When asked about media reports that the two leaders had to meet face to face to resolve the trade dispute, Gao said those reports were not true.
He added that he had no information on any plans for a US trade delegation to visit China.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked if China had invited US officials for more talks, said China always advocated resolving disputes through dialogue.
“Negotiations and consultations, to have meaning, must be sincere,” Lu told reporters at a separate daily briefing.
“First, there must be mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. Second, one’s word must be kept, and not be capricious.”
As negotiations towards resolving the US-China trade war stalled last week, the United States ramped up the pressure by raising tariffs on a list of $200 billion worth of Chinese imports to 25% from 10%.
China retaliated with higher tariffs on a revised list of $60 billion worth of US products.
Trump has threatened to launch 25% tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods.
“The tariff hike by the United States will only bring greater difficulties to the consultations,” Gao said.
“We urge the United States to cancel the wrong practices as early as possible, avoiding greater losses to Chinese and American companies and consumers, and causing a ‘recession-like’ impact on the world economy.”
Three differences remain between the two countries, according to China.
China believes tariffs were the genesis of the trade dispute, and that all tariffs must be eliminated in order to reach a deal.
The second issue centres on the additional volume of US goods that China will agree to buy, Vice Premier Liu He, China’s lead trade negotiator, said last week without giving details.
The third is over how balanced the text of the draft agreement of the trade deal should be, he said.
“To reach any agreement, China’s three core concerns must be properly resolved,” Gao said.
Huawei issued the following statement – “Huawei is the unparalleled leader in 5G. We are ready and willing to engage with the US government and come up with effective measures to ensure product security. Restricting Huawei from doing business in the US will not make the US more secure or stronger; instead, this will only serve to limit the US to inferior yet more expensive alternatives, leaving the US lagging behind in 5G deployment, and eventually harming the interests of US companies and consumers. In addition, unreasonable restrictions will infringe upon Huawei’s rights and raise other serious legal issues.”
(Reporting by Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore & Kim Coghill)