China Mobile denied access to US due to national security concerns


Last week US regulators denied a yet another request by China Mobile to operate in the US market and provide international telecommunications services. Why? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) felt that the company’s ties to the Chinese government pose a national security risk.

The FCC said that because of China Mobile USA’s ownership and control by the Chinese government, allowing it into the US market “would raise substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks.” The decision brings the Chinese telecoms giant’s eight-year effort to crack the US market to an end, but was not really a surprise since FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had publicly opposed the company’s application last month.

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator with nearly 930 million customers (February, 2019) and control of 70% of China’s mobile market first filed an application for permission to operate in the United States in 2011. The five-member FCC said in a statement that the decision was made after “extensive review” and “close consultation” with national security and law enforcement agencies. It also marks the first instance in which executive branch agencies have recommended that the FCC deny an application due to national security and law enforcement concerns, the statement said.

The decision should come as no surprise considering other Chinese tech firms such as Huawei and ZTE have faced stiff resistance from US government agencies, describing them as security threats. Some recent examples:

  1. ZTE came close to collapse last year after American companies were banned from selling it vital components over its continued dealings with Iran and North Korea.

  2. Federal authorities unveiled sweeping charges against Huawei in January for allegedly stealing technology and violating US sanctions on Iran.

  3. Huawei has also been under scrutiny as it faces a global US campaign to blacklist Huawei over espionage fears.

  4. Washington has barred the Chinese networking equipment company Huawei from developing the new ultra-fast 5G mobile network in the United States and has blocked US government purchases of its services.

Defense of intellectual property in China and getting fair access to that country’s markets have long been points of concern for US tech companies. They are also considered hard-to-fix problems when it come to trade between the US and China. Meanwhile, technology has become increasingly vital to national security and economies.

Denial of the China Mobile request came as US President Donald Trump held out hopes of salvaging a trade deal with China, just hours before Beijing’s negotiators were due to return to the bargaining table amid a sudden flare-up in hostilities. Since last year, the two sides have exchanged tariffs on more than $360 billion in two-way trade, gutting US agricultural exports to China and weighing on both countries’ manufacturing sectors.

The International Monetary Fund also repeated its warning on Thursday that the trade battle between the world’s top economies was a “threat” to global growth.

The Take Away

While China may be vilified in Washington, it’s well understood that the US economy (and most of the world’s economy) relies on the country’s manufacturing capabilities. They are simply unmatched in this regard. For instance, while we may be teaching our kids STEM skills, China’s education system has a strong focus on grooming and training their younger generation for manufacturing and management positions. We depend on them, plain and simple to make us the technology products we now enjoy and depend upon for daily living.

I recommend not paying attention to the news that makes China out to be the “bad guy” – we all know we depend on them. Let our tax dollars go to work, employing those in public office to sort out any misunderstandings on our behalf so that we can go about our daily lives.