President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order, banning Chinese telecom equipment from U.S. wireless networks before a major industry conference at the end of February, three sources told POLITICO.
The administration plans to release the directive, part of its broader effort to protect the U.S. from cyber threats, before MWC Barcelona, formerly known as Mobile World Congress, which takes place Feb. 25 to Feb. 28.
The current plan is for Trump to sign the long-delayed executive order next week, according to a source close to the administration, who requested anonymity to candidly discuss internal deliberations.
“There’s a big push to get it out before MWC,” said an industry source familiar with the matter, who also requested anonymity to speak candidly.
By preempting MWC, the world’s largest conference for the wireless industry, the White House hopes to send a signal that future contracts for cutting-edge technology must prioritize cybersecurity. That could further roil the Trump administration’s already tense relationship with Beijing, especially if the U.S. push erodes Chinese firms’ significant European market share.
The Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE have been in the Trump administration’s crosshairs as part of a broader focus on Chinese national security threats that has paralleled the ongoing trade war. Trump officials have repeatedly slammed Beijing for its theft of intellectual property and its more traditional cyber espionage.
In December, the Justice Department indicted two Chinese operatives for a decadelong campaign of digital intrusions into U.S. businesses and government agencies. And in January, DOJ unsealed a suite of charges against Huawei and its chief financial officer, who faces extradition to the U.S. for violating sanctions on Iran.
Many countries are eager to deploy next-generation 5G wireless networks to power the rapidly proliferating internet of things, and Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE are aggressively pushing to build these networks — at a lower cost than virtually all of their competitors.
With these 5G build outs looming, senior officials want “to move the needle” with their security messaging, said the source close to the administration.
“Contracts are going out now,” this person told POLITICO. “Extra stigma could change the situation out in the countries on this major decision.”
“We’re going to be asking people to do things, but the U.S. legal and regulatory environment hasn’t really closed the circle yet on this issue,” said Paul Triolo, who leads the consulting firm the Eurasia Group’s global technology practice. “So there’s a lot of pressure now to get this EO out there.”
The White House declined to comment for this story, but National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said the U.S. was “working across government and with our allies and like-minded partners to mitigate risk in the deployment of 5G and other communications infrastructure.”
MWC is expected to feature several telecom security meetings, and a second industry source said the U.S. is sending an interagency delegation of at least 20 officials and staffers. Attendees will include FCC Chairman Ajit Pai; Rob Strayer, the State Department’s top cyber official; Strayer’s boss Manisha Singh, the acting under secretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment; and Brian Bulatao, Trump’s nominee to be under secretary of state for management.