US bans telecom giant China Unicom over spying concerns

A woman stands beside a China Unicom 5G sign in Chongqing, China.

China Unicom has become the latest Chinese telecoms giant to be banned from the US over “significant” national security and espionage concerns.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it had voted unanimously to revoke authorisation for the company’s American unit to operate in the US.

The firm must stop providing telecoms services in America within 60 days. The announcement comes after larger rival China Telecom had its licence to operate in the US revoked in October.

FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement: “There has been mounting evidence – and with it, a growing concern – that Chinese state-owned carriers pose a real threat to the security of our telecommunications networks.”

Chinese technology and telecoms firms have been targeted in recent years by US authorities over national security concerns.

In November, President Joe Biden signed legislation that stops companies judged to be a security threat from receiving new telecoms equipment licences. Under the Secure Equipment Act, the FCC should no longer review applications from companies ruled to be a threat.

It means equipment from Huawei, ZTE and three other Chinese companies cannot be used in US telecoms networks. US officials said the Chinese government’s control of the company gave it the opportunity “to access, store, disrupt, and/or misroute US communications”.

This in turn could allow it “to engage in espionage and other harmful activities against the US”, they said. In 2019, Chinese state-owned telecoms giant China Mobile also had its US licence revoked.

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