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Huawei looks for openings in Biden's defense

China's Huawei is beginning to probe President Biden's defenses as he works to assert control over the executive branch of the US government. The company this week filed a fresh lawsuit against the FCC's designation of Huawei as a national security threat. Meantime, the company's CEO wondered publicly whether a US-China reset was possible.

"I would welcome [a call from Biden]" Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said Tuesday in translated comments provided to The Verge. "I would talk with him about common development. Both the US and China need to develop their economies, as this is good for our society and financial balance."

Ren continued: "Allowing US companies to supply goods to Chinese customers is conducive to their own financial performance. If Huawei's production capacity expanded, that would mean US companies could sell more. It's a win-win situation. I believe the new administration will weigh and balance these interests as they consider their policies. We still hope to be able to buy a lot of US components, parts, and machinery so that US companies can also develop with the Chinese economy."

Legal wrangling

Separately, Huawei filed a lawsuit Monday in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit asking for a review of an FCC ruling last year that found the company poses a national security threat.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the FCC is standing firm on the issue. "Last year the FCC issued a final designation identifying Huawei as a national security threat based on a substantial body of evidence developed by the FCC and numerous US national security agencies," an FCC official told the publication. "We will continue to defend that decision."

Biden's choice to head the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel, is moving quickly to shore up the agency's guidelines on the topic. As one of her first acts, she said the agency would vote on new rules designed to line up the agency's actions against Huawei with related Congressional legislation.

The FCC's stance against Huawei is being closely watched, considering the agency is in the midst of allocating almost $2 billion for a "rip and replace" program designed to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment from US networks. That program continues to generate complexities: For example, Alaska's TelAlaska now argues it will need to replace its network switches in addition to its Huawei radios because no other equipment is compatible with its switches.

"TelAlaska does not have final figures at this time, but it is pretty clear that replacing its cellular switches will entail costs that are at up to 10 times the costs of replacing its Huawei equipment," the company told the FCC.

Potential ambiguity

Nonetheless, there appear to be indications that the Biden administration won't exactly follow the Trump administration's opposition to Huawei and China.

For example, White House press secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly refused to say whether Huawei will remain on the US Commerce Department's economic blacklist, dubbed the "entity list."

But Governor Gina Raimondo, Biden's nominee to lead the Commerce Department, said she has "no reason to believe that entities [including Huawei] on those lists should not be there."

"I will not hesitate to encourage the use of the entity list, the military end user list, and other appropriate tools within the scope of commerce authorities to protect US national security and foreign policy interests," Raimondo wrote in response to Congressional questions on the topic.

But Raimondo did not specifically say that Huawei would remain on the entity list indefinitely.

For his part, Huawei's Ren doesn't appear to be holding his breath. According to the AP, he said it was "very unlikely" Huawei will be removed from the Commerce Department's blacklist. "I won't say it's impossible, but it's extremely unlikely. We basically aren't considering it a possibility," Ren said.

Ren also dismissed rumors that Huawei would sell its own smartphone division following the sale of its Honor phone business. "We will never sell our device business," he said.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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