Cybersecurity

House Republicans raise concerns about new Chinese tech companies

Two leading Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday raised concerns about security and privacy threats posed by emerging Chinese tech companies, specifically zeroing in on electronics group Xiaomi.

Committee ranking member John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.), the top Republican on the panel’s cybersecurity subcommittee, sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas highlighting concerns over the increasing Chinese threats in the information technology space. 

“The security of our nation’s information and communications technology (ICT) supply chain is critical to nearly every aspect of our lives,” Katko and Garbarino wrote. “Over the past several years, we have seen an alarming increase in threats to our ICT supply chain from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). They have been engaged in a multi-decade effort to lie, cheat, and steal their way to global dominance, in part by compromising our ICT backbone.” 

The lawmakers raised questions over whether new Chinese companies could seek to take the place of telecom giant Huawei, which was largely blocked from doing business in the U.S. by the Trump administration due to concerns stemming from its alleged ties to the Chinese government. 

“Our committee remains concerned about how your respective departments plan to address new and emerging Chinese companies seeking to fill the Huawei void,” Katko and Garbarino wrote. “We simply cannot allow more nefarious Chinese ICT products to enter U.S. markets.”

The lawmakers zeroed in on Chinese electronics group Xiaomi, which manufacturers mobile devices and laptops, among other products, with Katko and Garbarino noting they were “alarmed” at the potential for the company to fill the “Huawei void” in the United States. 

“We share grave concerns that Xiaomi poses a significant threat to the privacy of any of its users through its lineup of smartphones, laptops, smart watches, and other consumer-facing products,” the lawmakers wrote. “In many ways, data has become the modern-day currency of homeland security and we must take threats to the data integrity of the free world seriously.” 

The lawmakers asked that both Raimondo and Mayorkas outline steps their agencies are taking to secure the supply chain of critical information technologies and whether there were any plans to limit Xiaomi’s presence in the U.S. market. 

Huawei, alongside several other leading Chinese companies, was added to the Commerce Department’s “entity list” under the Trump administration, effectively blacklisting the groups.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security told The Hill that the agency “responds to Congressional correspondence through official channels.” The Commerce Department did not respond to a request for comment. 

A spokesperson for Xiaomi told The Hill in a statement that “Xiaomi is a consumer electronics company that offers a broad range of consumer products designed for civilian and commercial use. Xiaomi does not make any infrastructure or telecommunication equipment that are part of the ICT supply chain.”

The spokesperson noted that the one of the founders of the company is a U.S. citizen, and that “Xiaomi is a privately-owned, publicly-traded company with a multi-national board of directors.”

“Xiaomi upholds high standards for protecting the privacy of user data,” the spokesperson said. “Although we have not sold any smartphones, laptops, or smart watches in the United States, for all other regions we conduct business, including Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, our data protection practice conforms to top standards and adheres to local rules. For instance, we have routinely passed third-party’s audits to verify the effectiveness of security measures.”

Concerns around Chinese technology have grown in recent years, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pointing to an intelligence law that requires Chinese companies to provide data to the Chinese government.  

Former President Trump took a hard-line stance against China, while President Biden has vowed to push back against China on issues around technology.

Raimondo last week told reporters that Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, is currently leading a review of Huawei and other Chinese tech companies to determine how the new administration would proceed. 

“We have to level the playing field. No one can outcompete the American worker if the playing field is level,” Raimondo told reporters during a White House press briefing. “China’s actions are uncompetitive, coercive, underhanded. They have proven they will do whatever it takes, and so I plan to use all the tools in my toolbox as aggressively as possible to protect American workers and businesses from unfair Chinese practices.”

-Updated to include a statement from Xiaomi.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Andrew Garbarino China Chinese technology Donald Trump Gina Raimondo Huawei Jake Sullivan Joe Biden John Katko

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