The US State Department is ramping up efforts to rid American digital networks of made-in-China technology, including apps, cloud services, and telecoms operators, the US State Department said late on Wednesday.

Why it’s important: The program, outlined by the US State Department, signifies a monumental shift in US internet policy, moving away from a free web towards a China-like walled garden.

  • It is unclear when and how the plan will be implemented, and whether the State Department has the authority to pressure private companies to enforce the measures.

Escalating techwar: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the program, dubbed Clean Network, is the Trump Administration’s “comprehensive approach” to protecting US citizens’ privacy and American companies’ data from “aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.”

  • Apps like Tiktok and Wechat are “significant threats” to US interests, Pompeo said during a press conference announcing the initiative on Wednesday.
  • In response, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yin said the US is trying to draw an “iron curtain,” between the two countries and accused the US of “bullying.”

The five fronts: “Untrusted” Chinese technology will be removed from five key areas, Pompeo said.

  • The US wants to make sure that Chinese telecom carriers are not connected to US telecommunications networks, or providing services between the US and other countries.
  • Pompeo urged US regulator the Federal Communications Commission to “revoke the authorization of China Telecom and three other companies” to provide telecom services to and from the US.
  • The plan also seeks to remove untrusted Chinese apps from US app stores. The move is aimed at keeping US data out of the hands of Chinese companies, as well as preventing Chinese censors from influencing content available to US users, according to the statement.
  • The State Department said it will prevent Huawei and other Chinese smartphone manufacturers from pre-installing “popular” US apps on their devices. It will also prevent Huawei, “an arm of the PRC surveillance state,” from making such apps available in its app store.
  • The US will work to stop Chinese cloud providers like China Mobile, China Telecom, Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu from storing and processing vast amounts of data from US citizens and companies. The State Department aims to keep sensitive personal information and key intellectual property, such as Covid-19 vaccine research, away from Chinese companies, Pompeo said.
  • Undersea cables, the infrastructure that transfers data to and from the US and other countries, will be scrutinized to ensure it is free of Chinese espionage. The US will work with other nations to “secure” underwater cables around the world, according to Pompeo.

Context: Over the past few months, the Trump administration has signaled increasing protectionism against China.

  • Following the US’ moves against telecommunications giant Huawei, Tiktok owner Bytedance is now bearing the brunt of the US offensive against Chinese tech companies.
  • Amid growing threats of a potential US ban on Tiktok, Bytedance is reportedly attempting to sell the US operations of its short video app to Microsoft. US President Donald Trump said the government is entitled to a “cut” from the deal.
  • Meanwhile, risks for Huawei in US-allied countries is growing. The UK announced in early July it would ban the Chinese telecom giant from its 5G networks. France is reportedly making similar moves.
  • The Clean Network is an expansion of the Clean Path initiative launched in April, an effort to keep Huawei out of US and allied countries’ 5G networks.

Eliza Gkritsi

Eliza is TechNode's community listening reporter at the Shanghai office. She acts as a link between the editorial team and TechNode Squared members. She previously worked as a reporter for WikiTribune...