Huawei granted temporary US license in blacklist ‘stay of execution’

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Huawei has been granted a 90-day US general license, allowing the Chinese telecom to maintain its existing networks and provide users with software updates even as it prepares for exile on a Commerce Department blacklist.

The grace period allows Huawei’s American customers to continue with business as usual, according to the Commerce Department, which announced on Monday that the Chinese firm could continue using US technology it already had a license to – but that new equipment would have to apply for new licenses, which are unlikely to be granted.

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The announcement came shortly after Google confirmed it would sever its relationship with Huawei in order to comply with President Donald Trump’s executive order, which added Huawei and 70 of its affiliates to a trade blacklist last week, citing nonspecific concerns about “national security threats.” Google confirmed Huawei devices running the Android operating system would remain fully functional during the 90-day grace period.

While Android-powered Huawei phones would have continued to function at a basic level even if the company made it to the blacklist, users would be unable to download operating system updates, and new Huawei phones would only run the open-source version of Android.

The Commerce Department first hinted it might postpone Huawei’s inclusion on the blacklist on Friday, suggesting the stay of execution would allow companies time to switch their equipment over to non-Huawei alternatives. But China has signaled it is willing to up the ante in the Huawei trade-war-within-a-trade-war, and some analysts are concerned Beijing might curtail US access to the rare earth minerals Huawei’s competitors need to manufacture their devices. 

The Trump administration has warned its allies that Beijing is using backdoors in Huawei tech to spy, imploring and even threatening countries including the UK and Germany to steer clear of using Chinese equipment to construct their 5G telecom networks, or face exclusion from the sharing of sensitive intelligence. Huawei, however, has maintained it does not spy for the Chinese government, accusing the US of using “national security” as an excuse to unfairly shut down competition.

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Huawei became the #2 mobile manufacturer last year, edging out Apple. The company has reportedly been developing its own mobile operating system since 2012 as a contingency plan should they find themselves cut off from the US market, wary of meeting the same end as fellow Chinese telecom ZTE, which was forced to close its doors for months after a similar blacklisting effectively sealed their fate. 

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