U.S. senators urge Trump not to use Huawei as bargaining chip in trade talks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio on Thursday urged the Trump administration not to use Huawei Technologies Co as a bargaining chip in trade talks with China that might allow expanded use of the company’s equipment in the U.S. telecommunications industry.

FILE PHOTO: Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) talks with military families about their hazardous living conditions during a meeting at the Peninsula Workforce Development Office in Newport News, Virginia, U.S. March 11, 2019. To match Special Report USA-HOUSING/MAP. REUTERS/Ryan M. Kelly

“Allowing the use of Huawei equipment in U.S. telecommunications infrastructure is harmful to our national security,” the senators wrote. “In no way should Huawei be used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations.”

Trump reiterated on Monday in a CNBC interview that Huawei could be part of a trade deal with China, a position he has repeatedly stated, even though he has said Huawei is “dangerous.”

Rubio, a Republican and Warner, a Democrat, both serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the senators said “Europeans have publicly expressed fears that the administration will soften its position on Huawei in the United States to gain leverage in trade talks, as the administration did in June 2018 when the seven-year ban on ZTE was reversed.”

Last month, the Trump administration took aim at China’s Huawei, banning the firm from buying vital U.S. technology without special approval and effectively barring its equipment from U.S. telecom networks on national security grounds.

Taken together, the two moves threaten Huawei’s ability to continue to sell many products because of its reliance on American suppliers and represents a significant escalation in the U.S. government’s worldwide campaign against the company.

Washington believes the handsets and network equipment for telecommunications companies made by Huawei could be used by the Chinese state to spy on Americans.

Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations. Members of Congress said Trump’s executive order last month on addressing threats to U.S. telecommunications networks was squarely aimed at Chinese companies like Huawei, which generated $93 billion in revenue last year and is seen as a national champion in China.

Huawei equipment is used in many rural U.S. telecommunications networks and the Federal Communications Commission has been debating whether it should prohibit wireless companies from using U.S. government funds to buy Huawei gear for their networks or force them to remove existing equipment.

Washington is also seeking the extradition of Huawei Chief Financial Executive Meng Wanzhou from Canada after her arrest in Vancouver last December on a U.S. warrant. China has since upped the pressure on Canada, halting Canadian canola imports and in May suspended the permits of two major pork producers.

The senators said any changes to Huawei’s status “must be pursued in a risk-based way, separate from any trade negotiations, and consistent with national security considerations... Conflating national security concerns with levers in trade negotiations undermines this effort, and endangers American security.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler