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Biden Administration Considers Whether To Continue Trump's Hard Line Against Huawei


President Biden has called China our most serious competitor, and his administration is reviewing many of its China-related policies, including those aimed at telecommunications equipment giant Huawei. The Trump administration took a hard line on the company. And so far, the Biden administration appears to want to keep the pressure on. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: When former President Donald Trump captured the White House, Huawei was the world's largest telecommunications equipment maker, well on its way to gaining global dominance in 5G technology. By the time President Biden took office, the company had been brought to its knees, cut off from the U.S. and many international markets and critical American technology like semiconductors.

ANDY PURDY: To use a sports metaphor, we're in the penalty box or actually more likely we are - we're kind of kicked out of the league for a while.

NORTHAM: That's Andy Purdy, chief security officer for Huawei Technologies USA. He says stringent U.S. sanctions, particularly on semiconductors, have battered Huawei's sales. The U.S. claims the company is a national security threat because of perceived close ties to the Chinese government, but Purdy says that's not the only way the U.S. is blocking Huawei.

PURDY: You can't take away the geopolitical context of U.S. and China and the fear that the U.S. has of the rise of China, and that one of the key things for American leadership in the world is technology innovation. And seeing the gap close with China is of great concern to the U.S.

NORTHAM: Robert Williams, executive director of the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, says the Biden administration will have to consider the possible consequences of restricting Huawei's access to American technology.

ROBERT WILLIAMS: The damage that that would cause to the U.S. semiconductor industry, the ways in which it might induce retaliation for U.S. firms operating in China, and the ways it might simply feed China's own ongoing efforts to claim the so-called commanding heights of next generation technology.

NORTHAM: Continuing the ban on semiconductors can also disrupt the global supply chain and hurt major U.S. businesses such as Qualcomm. U.S. tech firms are already lobbying the Biden administration.

PAUL TRIOLO: The Biden team is, at least at first blush, more willing to listen to U.S. industry.

NORTHAM: Paul Triolo also heads up the global technology policy team at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy.

TRIOLO: You know, how that happens and through what channels and how they integrate that into their overall China policy and their specific policies against, you know, Chinese tech companies is still - the jury is still out on that.

NORTHAM: Huawei's Purdy says U.S. tech companies may get the Biden administration's ear, but it's unlikely Huawei will get a reprieve anytime soon because Biden won't want to be seen as soft on China.

PURDY: Even though I don't think he would normally be inclined to do that, he's even less inclined to do it now. We've got the midterm elections and all that pressure.

NORTHAM: Then there's the issue of Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou. The Trump administration asked Canada to arrest her for evading U.S. sanctions on Iran. She's currently fighting her extradition to the U.S. Trump suggested Meng could be a bargaining chip in fraught trade negotiations between China and the U.S., but Robert Williams says the Biden administration is unlikely to cut a deal for her release,

WILLIAMS: Regardless of how that is ultimately resolved, the Justice Department will be keen to do so in a way that does not suggest political interference from above.

NORTHAM: Which means Meng could very well be extradited to the U.S. Eurasia Group's Triolo says he surprised that Beijing hasn't really reacted to the U.S. hamstringing Huawei and requesting the extradition of a senior executive.

TRIOLO: But, you know, it's a volatile issue that could go astray or really continue to lead to very serious tensions in the relationship.

NORTHAM: Triolo says the next couple of months will be critical to how the Biden administration wants to play this.

Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.