Trump warns of 5G competition, but no mention of China or Huawei

Jenna McLaughlin
National Security and Investigations Reporter
President Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at an event about United States 5G deployment on April 12. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Amid ongoing trade talks with Beijing, President Trump heralded the success of the American private sector for building 5G while warning of foreign competition, but in a marked departure for his administration made no specific mention of China.

Surrounded by workers in hardhats and men and women in cowboy hats who Trump identified as farmers, the president said, “We cannot allow any other country to outcompete the United States in this powerful industry of the future.” However, in contrast to the Trump administration’s worldwide tour warning allies about the security dangers of implementing foreign technology in the development of 5G — the networks that will operate with lightning-speed connections — Trump did not specifically bring up China or its top telecom companies, Huawei and ZTE.

The decision to omit mention of China lines up with an apparent switch in strategy that senior administration officials have pursued in recent weeks, advocating a “country and company” agnostic policy when it comes to 5G security. Amid a cooling trade war and an international community that remains undecided on how to deal with Huawei, which provides inexpensive and high-quality technology to rural and developing regions, the administration has hesitated in outright banning the Chinese technology by executive order.

President Trump also dismissed a former potential strategy, developed by a former National Security Council senior official, Rob Spalding, to get the government more involved in securing 5G throughout development. While Trump said the new networks “have to be guarded from the enemy,” an opponent that went unnamed, he also indicated speed as a top priority for rolling out 5G.

“We had another alternative of doing it ... leading through the government,” he said. “We don’t want to do that, because it won’t be nearly as good, nearly as fast.”

Spalding, a retired Air Force brigadier general, repeated a frustration he has had about 5G for a long time to Yahoo News — that the telecom industry has so far succeeded in “controlling the narrative.”

“That’s why Randall Stephenson went to see him,” wrote Spalding in an email to Yahoo News, referring to a briefing the AT&T CEO gave the president on progress in the race to 5G earlier in the week, according to Politico. “I’m sure of it.”

The government isn’t completely staying out of 5G, however. Trump gave Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai the floor on Friday afternoon to talk about how the FCC would be auctioning off broadband spectrum to companies for their 5G networks, as well as a program to help rural communities get access to the necessary technology for advancing network connectivity.

These are part of the FCC’s “5G Fast Plan,” said Pai.


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