Washington tightened the screws on Huawei in May when it barred the Chinese tech giant from buying US-made equipment, including chips, citing security concerns. The crackdown weakened after President Trump announced in June that US suppliers will be permitted to sell components and spare parts to Huawei.
Speaking at the first South African Digital Economy Summit in Johannesburg, President Cyril Ramaphosa signalled his country’s support for Huawei amid the US’ crackdown on the Chinese tech giant.
“This standoff between China and the US where the technology company Huawei is being used as victim because of its successes is an example of protectionism that will affect our own telecommunications sector, particularly the efforts to roll out the 5G network, causing a setback on other networks as well”, Ramaphosa pointed out.
He singled out a spate of South African telecommunication companies that wrote him a letter to express their serious concern over Washington’s clampdown on Huawei.
In the letter, the companies in particular said “this tussle between the US and China around the company called Huawei is going to hurt us because we can’t go to 5G and only Huawei can lead us to 5G”, according to Ramaphosa.
He underscored that South Africa supports Huawei because “it is going to take our country and indeed the world to better technologies, and that is 5G”.
“We cannot afford to have our economy to be held back because of this fight. We are pleased that at the G20 Summit, China and US were able to meet and they said they will relax some of the constraints being imposed on Huawei, so that it can continue to deal with other various companies”, Ramaphosa concluded.
His remarks come after US President Donald Trump took to Twitter to tout his “great meeting” with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Osaka, where the US president “agreed to allow Chinese company Huawei to buy product from them which will not impact our National Security”.
The move was welcomed by Huawei, with its CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei saying that this was “good for American companies”.
“Huawei is also willing to continue to buy products from American companies. But we don’t see much impact on what we are currently doing. We will still focus on doing our own job right”, the company stressed in a statement.
White House economic aide Larry Kudlow, however, noted that Trump’s move to ease the US restriction on Huawei is “not a general amnesty” and that Huawei would remain on the so-called Entity’s List, “where there are serious export controls”.
Washington suspects that Huawei, the world’s largest telecom equipment manufacturer, is helping Beijing steal commercial secrets and collect personal data, allegations both Huawei and Chinese authorities deny.
In May, the Trump administration blocked government contractors from using Huawei gear and, in a separate development, barred the Chinese tech giant from buying US-made equipment, including chips.
The crackdown comes as Beijing and Washington have been trying to resolve a bilateral trade spat that emerged in the wake of Trump’s decision in June 2018 to slap 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods in a bid to fix the trade deficit. Since then, the two sides have exchanged several rounds of tariffs.