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A briefing on Chinese tech giant Huawei and why it is affecting Raimondo’s Commerce Secretary confirmation

Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo.
Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s Senate nomination for Commerce secretary was delayed on Thursday when Senator Ted Cruz placed a hold on the vote, citing concern over her position on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

Here’s a briefing on the tech company and why it is affecting Raimondo’s confirmation.

What is Huawei?

Huawei is a a telecommunications company based in Shenzhen, China, that makes and sells network equipment and consumer electronics, such as smartphones. In July, the company became the largest manufacturer of smartphones, surpassing Samsung after already topping Apple in 2018. However, the tech titan may not be well-known to many in the US, for reasons outlined in the next section.

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What is Huawei’s relationship with the US?

The main US concerns stem from fear that Huawei could allow the Chinese Communist Party to spy on individuals and companies using its technology. Huawei denies that, but the US has taken several measures in recent years to limit the company’s ability to use American products and make sales in the US.

The Trump administration added Huawei to its “entity list” in May 2019, putting heavy restrictions on its trade with US companies, even if the final product ends up being sold elsewhere. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said at the time that “this will prevent American technology from being used by foreign owned entities in ways that potentially undermine US national security or foreign policy interests.” These rules were further tightened in August 2020 to limit trade loopholes.

Huawei declined to comment for this story but has previously voiced concern over the US restrictions, calling them an abuse of power.

The tension has impacted chip makers Skyworks Solutions in Woburn and Analog Devices in Norwood, which sell products to the Chinese tech giant. Officials in the UK and Sweden have banned Huawei from installing its 5G networks, citing security concerns, and reports began surfacing last year that Huawei could potentially use facial recognition software to track members of the Uighur ethnic group.

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What is Gov. Raimondo’s position on Huawei?

After not specifically committing to keeping Trump’s Huawei orders in place during her nomination hearing on Tuesday, Raimondo followed up with written responses to clarify her position.

“With respect to Huawei, let me be clear: telecommunications equipment made by untrusted vendors is a threat to the security of the U.S. and our allies,” she wrote in a statement. Responding to a question on Huawei’s placement on the US entity list, she said she has “no reason to believe that entities on those lists should not be there. If confirmed, I look forward to a briefing on these entities and others of concern.”

Page 13 of Gov. Gina Raimondo's Written Response
Contributed to DocumentCloud by BostonGlobe.com BG (The Boston Globe) • View document or read text

How does this affect Gov. Raimondo’s nomination?

Senator Cruz has delayed the vote to confirm Raimondo, but the hold will only be in place for 30 hours. Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed said in a statement on Thursday that he thinks the move will not compromise Raimondo’s pending confirmation.

“The Governor has strong bipartisan support and she will be confirmed,” Reed said. “If Senator Cruz persists with this, he may be able to waste up to thirty hours of floor time, but his hold will be defeated through a cloture vote.”

What are the implications for China policy?

Raimondo’s response on Huawei offers a glimpse into how tough the Biden-Harris administration will be on the tech company, which has been embroiled in an ongoing trade war with the US. The new administration has previously hinted that it will likely keep many China sanctions in place.

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Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8.