Pentagon: Stores on US bases should stop selling phones by Chinese tech giants

The Pentagon has a message for stores on US military bases: Stop selling phones made by Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE.

The devices could be security risks to the Defense Department, Pentagon spokesman Major Dave Eastburn said Wednesday.

“Huawei and ZTE devices may pose an unacceptable risk to [the department’s] personnel, information and mission,” he said in a statement. “In light of this information, it was not prudent for the Department’s exchanges to continue selling them to DoD personnel.”

Eastburn said he is not able to get into the technical aspects of potential threats, for security reasons.

The move by the Pentagon is the latest blow to Huawei and ZTE, which sell smartphones and telecommunications equipment around the world.

In a statement, Huawei said that its products are sold in 170 countries and “meet the highest standards of security, privacy and engineering in every country,” including the United States.

“We remain committed to openness and transparency in everything we do and want to be clear that no government has ever asked us to compromise the security or integrity of any of our networks or devices,” the company said.

ZTE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, the US Commerce Department banned ZTE from buying product parts from American firms for seven years. The agency said that ZTE lied to American officials about punishing employees who violated US sanctions against North Korea and Iran.

ZTE called the move “extremely unfair.”

And in February, top officials from the CIA, NSA, FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress that American citizens shouldn’t use Huawei or ZTE phones.

Huawei and ZTE have struggled to make inroads with US buyers in recent years, in large part due to government concerns.

Only 2,400 Huawei and ZTE phones were sold on military bases last year, according to the Defense Department. That’s less than 1% of all “telecom business” from base stores.

Still, the Pentagon’s action on Wednesday could further escalate trade tensions between China and the United States.

A coalition of top US officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, heads to Beijing this week for talks with Chinese officials on trade.

President Trump has threatened to place up to $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods as punishment for intellectual property theft. US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are also at issue.