Happier days: Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 and Ray Conner, then-president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, applaud after Xi’s tour of the Boeing assembly line in Everett, Washington September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Ralston/Pool
It feels like May 2019 all over again: Exactly a year ago today, the Trump administration first announced its “entity list” designation for Huawei. These restrictions on American companies exporting critical components to Huawei presented a potential existential threat to the company, and comprised the most significant salvo in a tech war that accompanied the trade war.
At the time, the Chinese commerce department responded by threatening to create an “unreliable entities list” for American companies — but this threat never materialized.
Today, the U.S. Commerce Department proposed new rules that would tighten the “entity list” designation, and further restrict Huawei’s access to American technology. The rules specifically mention HiSilicon, an affiliate of Huawei’s that recently broke into the list of the world’s top 10 chipmakers.
As it has regularly over the past year, the Trump administration is extending the Temporary General License for another 90 days to allow exemptions for some exports, though per the New York Times, the Commerce Department “warned this would be the final extension.”
China is again threatening an “unreliable entities list,” this time via the nationalistic tabloid the Global Times. Global Times editor Hú Xījìn 胡锡进 added on Twitter: “Based on what I know, if the U.S. further blocks key technology supply to Huawei, China will activate the ‘unreliable entity list,’ restrict or investigate U.S. companies such as Qualcomm, Cisco and Apple, and suspend the purchase of Boeing airplanes.” The same threats appear in an article highlighted prominently on the Global Times’ Chinese language home page.)
What does this mean?
It is hard to tell if the threat is credible, especially since it is coming from an unnamed source in the Global Times and not directly from the Chinese commerce department. But given the renewed downward spiraling of U.S.-China relations in recent weeks, it would be unwise to rule anything out. Things can always — and almost certainly will — get worse.