US politicians seek to ban Huawei spinoff phone brand Honor

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US politicians seek to ban Huawei spinoff phone brand Honor

Republican US senators led by Marco Rubio on Thursday called on the administration of US president Biden to blacklist Honor, a former unit of embattled Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, describing the firm as a threat to national security.

In a letter dated Thursday, seen by Reuters, Rubio described Honor as essentially an "arm" of the Chinese government with newly unfettered access the same prized US technology currently denied to Huawei. The letter adds to a growing chorus of China hawks calling for the blacklisting.

By spinning off the Chinese telecom giant's budget smartphone brand in November 2020, "Beijing has effectively dodged a critical American export control," Rubio wrote in the letter also signed by Senators John Cornyn and Rick Scott.

"By failing to act in response, the Department of Commerce risks setting a dangerous precedent and communicating to adversaries that we lack the capacity or willpower to punish blatant financial engineering by an authoritarian regime."

Honor and the Department of Commerce in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Huawei declined to comment beyond noting a prior statement that said it would not hold any shares or be involved in managing Honor following the spinoff. The Chinese Embassy in Washington said the US had kept "smearing" Huawei without presenting solid evidence to support its accusations.

The Trump administration placed Huawei on a trade blacklist in 2019, arguing the company posed a national security threat, which Huawei denies. Putting the company on the so-called entity list has meant its US suppliers have had to obtain special licenses to sell key items like semiconductors to the firm.

While both Honor and Huawei phones are available in Australia, the latter company has been banned from providing 5G network infrastructure. 

Google was also barred from providing technical support to new Huawei phone models and access to Google Mobile Services in the US, the bundle of developer services upon which most Android apps are based.

As sanctions against the company began to bite amid tighter controls, Huawei announced the Honor sale to a consortium of over 30 agents and dealers.

In August a group of 14 Republican US Congressmen led by Michael McCaul, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also called on the Commerce Department to blacklist Honor, alleging the company was spun off to evade US export controls and to give Huawei access to blocked semiconductor chips and software.

On Monday, Honor said on Twitter it had "succeeded in confirming cooperation with a number of supplier partners in the early stage" and that its Honor 50 smartphones would be equipped with Google Mobile Services.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Additional Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Diane Craft and William Mallard)

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