* Lawmakers looking at firms including Huawei, ZTE
* Probe of threat to U.S. infrastructure, security
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, Nov 17 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers said on Thursday they are investigating security threats posed by Chinese telecommunications firms operating in the United States as concerns grow about Chinese cyber espionage.
The House of Representatives intelligence committee will examine “the threat posed to our nation’s security and critical infrastructure by the expansion of Chinese-owned telecommunications companies -- including Huawei and ZTE -- into our telecommunications infrastructure.”
Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is a $30 billion maker of telecoms gear and personal devices such as smartphones. It is based in Shenzhen, China, as is its smaller rival, ZTE Corp.
The committee’s Republican chairman, Mike Rogers, accused China last month of widespread electronic economic espionage and said the United States and its allies should put pressure on Beijing to stop.
“The fact that our critical infrastructure could be used against us is of serious concern,” Rogers said on Thursday.
“We are looking at the overall infrastructure threat and Huawei happens to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room but there are other companies that will be included in the investigation as well.”
He warned the U.S. business community against using Huawei technology “until we can fully determine their motives.”
Relations between the United States and China - the world’s two largest economies - are beset by differences over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and China’s military buildup in the Pacific, its human rights record and its currency and trade practices.
A U.S. intelligence report this month said China and Russia are using cyber espionage to steal U.S. trade and technology secrets, posing a threat to U.S. prosperity and security.
China has said it is unfairly accused by countries unhappy with its economic rise and that it has also been a victim of cyber attacks.
C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House committee, said vulnerabilities could derive from compromised hardware on which the U.S. telecoms industry relies.
Huawei spokesman William Plummer said the company’s gear had been used by 45 of the 50 top telecommunications service providers globally “with zero security incidents.”
ZTE said it was “wholly committed to transparency” and would cooperate with the investigation, which was announced as U.S. President Barack Obama was on a trip in Asia.
Huawei and ZTE previously hit obstacles in clinching some deals in the United States due to security concerns. For Huawei, the concerns also stem from its founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei, a former Chinese military officer.
Huawei welcomed the review, Plummer said, because concerns about security issues around the globe were real.
But he added: “Network security has nothing to do with any one vendor or any country or national borders. Network security is borderless. It requires a real solution” that he said should be “agnostic to the vendor, universal and non-political.”
A ZTE statement said: “Our company is publicly traded with operations in more than 140 countries and we are confident a fair review will further demonstrate that ZTE is a trustworthy and law-abiding partner for all U.S. carriers and their customers.” (Editing by John O‘Callaghan)