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The U.S. did not inform Canada about its new initiative to ban Chinese technology like TikTok and WeChat

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, D.C. in August 2020. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
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The United States did not inform the federal government about its new program to ban Chinese technology like TikTok and WeChat, both of which have significant presences in Canada, prior to launch. 

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On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched what he called the Clean Network, meant to ensure China doesn’t compromise U.S. networks, apps, app stores, cloud services and undersea cables. At a press conference announcing the measure, Pompeo highlighted Canada’s three largest telecoms—Bell, Rogers and Telus—as “clean telcos,” among others. He also said that more than 30 countries and territories, as well as many telcos, had signed on to the initiative and committed to only using trusted vendors. 

Talking Point

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched what he called the Clean Network, meant to ensure China doesn’t compromise U.S. networks, apps, app stores, cloud services and undersea cables. At a press conference announcing the measure, Pompeo highlighted Canada’s three largest telecoms—Bell, Rogers and Telus—as “clean telcos,” among others. He didn’t talk to Canada about the initiative prior to launch.

“Canada was not approached by the United States ahead of the Clean Network announcement,” Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, told The Logic. The U.S. State Department declined to answer a question on whether Canada is cooperating on this new effort. 

On Thursday evening, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning the Chinese firms from doing business in America in 45 days unless they are sold. “With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok and WeChat and others, are significant threats to personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for Chinese Communist Party content censorship,” said Pompeo. Other parts of the Clean Network proposal have yet to be implemented via executive order or new legislation, but could pose problems for Canadian firms if they are. The U.S. is proposing barring information on its citizens and businesses from being stored on Alibaba’s cloud network. The University of Toronto and University of Waterloo are currently using Alibaba’s cloud to help international students access course materials.

Tencent, which owns WeChat, has a significant presence in Canada. It’s invested in Montreal-based artificial intelligence firm Element AI, Toronto-based story-sharing platform Wattpad, Vancouver-based machine learning firm Kindred and coffee giant Tim Hortons. In 2018, Telus announced a partnership with Tencent for a SIM card designed for Chinese tourists visiting North America. “I can confirm that we are aware we’re on the list,” said Telus spokesperson Richard Gilhooley. “Bell hasn’t had any discussions about the Clean Network program with either the Canadian or US government,” said Bell spokesperson Nathan Gibson.

It’s not just companies doing business with Tencent. Tourism Vancouver has a marketing partnership with Tencent to promote the city as a destination for Chinese tourists.

Canada has engaged with the U.S. on similar initiatives to limit Chinese technology, such as its request that international partners block Huawei from 5G networks. Canada is currently considering whether or not to institute such a ban. It’s the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network not to issue a ban or restriction. Canada has also gone its own way on related U.S. initiatives. Earlier this year, The Logic reported that the federal government was flying Chinese drones grounded in the U.S. over national security concerns, and that the military had decided not to block Chinese surveillance cameras banned by the U.S.

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TikTok has expanded its Canadian presence in recent months. In July, the firm hired Steve de Eyre, who spent four years leading Amazon’s public policy in Canada, as its director of government affairs. The firm has recently brought in a number of senior Canadian staff,  including several Facebook veterans. TikTok also has 10 job postings available in Canada. 

The Clean Network was announced shortly before the U.S. imposed 10 per cent tariffs on Canadian aluminum. Canada plans to impose $3.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs. 

With files from Murad Hemmadi