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China Telecom: US revokes licence of top Chinese ISP over ‘national security’ concerns

The US has revoked the licence of one of China’s largest telecoms giants citing “national security” concerns.

The country’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to revoke China Telecom’s operations licence on Tuesday, following which the internet service provider will now have 60 days to wind up its operations in the country.

A 2019 senate report had said China Telecom was known to be the largest fixed telecom line and broadband operator in the world.

The fact Beijing controls China Telecom could potentially allow it to “access, store, disrupt, and/or misroute US communications” through the company, officials said.

This access could allow the Chinese government to “engage in espionage and other harmful activities against the US,” they added.

Known as one of Beijing’s big three telecom giants, China Telecom had more than 335 million subscribers across the world as of 2019.

China Telecom’s mobile virtual network services target more than four million Chinese Americans, two million Chinese tourists a year visiting the US, 300,000 Chinese students at US colleges and more than 1,500 Chinese businesses in the country, according to an April 2020 statement by the US government.

The firm, which has its footprint in 110 countries, also provides services to Chinese government facilities in the US.

“We plan to pursue all available options while continuing to serve our customers,” said a spokesperson for China Telecom, terming the decision “disappointing”.

This is the second time in more than a year the FCC threatened to shut down China Telecom’s services, fearing exploitation and control of data by the Chinese government.

In April last year, the commission said the company was “highly likely to be forced to comply with Chinese government requests without… independent judicial oversight.”

The move to revoke the licence was announced shortly after a conversation between US treasury secretary Janet Yellen and Chinese vice premier Liu over the global economy.

The meeting had signalled a gradual improvement between Washington and Beijing, who had been sparring amid a recent prisoner swap and over Taiwan.