BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry has some suggestions for the Trump administration if it is worried about foreign eavesdropping on the US president’s iPhones: use a Huawei handset instead.
Or just cut all forms of modern communication with the outside world.
The riposte came after the New York Times reported that American intelligence reports indicated that Chinese and Russian spies often listen in on President Donald Trump when he uses his Apple cellphones to chat with old friends.
Aides have repeatedly told him that his cellphone calls are not secure, but although the president has been persuaded to use his secure White House landline more often, he has refused to give up the phones, the Times said.
Trump called the Times report incorrect on Thursday, and dismissed it as “long and boring.”
“I only use Government Phones, and have only one seldom used government cell phone. Story is soooo wrong!” Trump wrote on Twitter. In a later tweet, he said, “I rarely use a cellphone, & when I do it’s government authorized. I like Hard Lines. Just more made up Fake News!”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also dismissed the Times story, calling such reports “evidence that the New York Times makes fake news.”
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, she also offered two suggestions apparently aimed at the Trump administration.
“If they are really very worried about Apple phones being bugged, then they can change to using Huawei,” she said, referring to China’s biggest telecommunications equipment maker.
“If they are still not at ease, then in order to have an entirely secure device, they can stop using all forms of modern communication devices and cut off all ties with the outside world.”
The Times cited current and former US officials as saying China has a sophisticated approach toward the intercepted presidential phone calls and is seeking to use them to determine what Trump thinks, whom he listens to and how best to sway him. In particular, it is trying to use what it learns to prevent the current trade war between the two countries from escalating further, the Times said.
While China’s recommendation of Huawei phones may have been tongue-in-cheek, Huawei has come under scrutiny in the United States.
Intelligence agency leaders and others have said they are concerned that Huawei and other Chinese companies may be beholden to the Chinese government or ruling Communist Party, raising the risk of espionage.
The US Democratic National Committee warned party candidates running in November elections not to use devices from Huawei or ZTE, another major Chinese telecoms gear maker.
Concerns have been raised on several occasions this year about cellphone surveillance activity in the Washington area. The Department of Homeland Security said in a letter to several senators in March that it had observed activity in Washington consistent with mobile subscriber identity catchers.
Trump repeatedly excoriated his Democratic rival in the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton, on the issue of secure communications, rebuking her for her use of a private email address and server while she was secretary of state.
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing and David Alexander and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Peter Cooney, Simon Cameron-Moore and Frances Kerry)