Chinese state-owned telecommunications companies China Telecom and China Unicom urged the US telecommunications regulator not to revoke their authorization to operate international phone services in the country as relations between the two countries deteriorate.

Why it matters: Efforts to restrict Chinese state-owned telecom companies from operating in the US are intensifying as concerns about national security and Chinese espionage gather momentum.

  • The two carriers, China Telecom and China Unicom, have had permission to provide international telecommunications services to and from the United States for decades. However, the US Justice Department and other federal agencies recently asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act against their operations, citing national security concerns.

Details: The US arm of China Telecom urged the FCC on Monday not to revoke its right to operate in the US “based solely on foreign policy concerns in the absence of any evidence whatsoever of specific misconduct,” according to Reuters, citing a filing by the Chinese company.

  • China Telecom (Americas), the US subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned carrier, said that the company’s conduct does not “demonstrate any reasonable basis for the U.S. government’s stated lack of trust,” according to the report.
  • Following requests from the Justice Department, along with Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Commerce Departments, the FCC warned in April it might shut down the US operations of state-controlled Chinese telecoms companies including China Telecom and China Unicom.
  • China Unicom (Americas) said in a June 1 filing to the FCC that it had “a two-decade track record as a valuable contributor to US telecommunications markets” and that there is no valid ground to revoke its authorization to operate in the US.

Context: China Telecom and Unicom hold licenses granted by the FCC in the early 2000s allowing them to operate in the country, but US lawmakers have long advocated re-examining their operations.

  • China Mobile USA, a subsidiary of China Mobile, filed an application in September 2011 to the FCC to carry international voice traffic between the US and other countries. The company stated that it didn’t intend to provide telecom services within the US.
  • The FCC in May 2019 denied China Mobile’s application. Chairman Ajit Pai said the Chinese government would use the carrier to conduct activities which would seriously jeopardize US national security, law enforcement, and economic interests.

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.