In a significant development, several agencies from the U.S. government including the Justice Department called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revoke China Telecom (Americas) Corp’s ability to provide international telecommunications services to and from the United States.
China Telecom is the U.S. subsidiary of a People’s Republic of China (PRC) state-owned telecommunications company.
In 2019, two U.S. senators asked the FCC to review approvals of China Telecom and China Unicom to operate in the United States.
In May 2019, the FCC voted unanimously to deny China Mobile Ltd, another state-owned Chinese telecommunications company, the right to provide services in the United States, citing risks that Beijing could use the approval to spy on the U.S. government.
China Telecom (Americas) had rejected the allegations and had said it has “been extremely cooperative and transparent with regulators.”
“In many instances, we have gone beyond what has been requested to demonstrate how our business operates and serves our customers following the highest international standards,” said the company in a statement. “We look forward to sharing additional details to support our position and addressing any concerns.”
In a statement, FCC’s spokeswoman said the agency “has been looking at this issue. We welcome the input of the executive branch agencies and will review it carefully.”
The U.S. agencies which called on the FCC for this review includes Homeland Security, State Department, Department of Defense, the United States Trade Representative and the Commerce Department. They have all cited “substantial and unacceptable national security and law enforcement risks associated with China Telecom’s operations.”
These agencies also voiced concerns that China Telecom’s U.S. operations could allow Chinese government entities “to engage in malicious cyber activity enabling economic espionage and disruption and misrouting of U.S. communications.”
In September 2019, U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer as well as Republican Senator Tom Cotton, voiced concerns that China Telecom and China Unicom “have access to our telephone lines, fiber optic cables, cellular networks and satellites in ways that could give it (China) the ability to target the content of communications of Americans or their businesses and the U.S. government.”
This Wednesday, the Justice Department said, U.S. agencies believe “there is a significant risk that the grant of a direct cable connection between the United States and Hong Kong would seriously jeopardize the national security and law enforcement interests of the United States.”