The Trump administration, distracted by other important things, has apparently forgotten that it’s mad at Huawei. If this seems strange to you, it’s probably because we’ve all gotten used to hearing the government go on and on about how the Chinese telecommunications company is a threat to U.S. national security. But alas, these comments apparently do not matter much anymore, because the U.S. government is letting American companies sell certain items to Huawei again.
According to Reuters report, Qualcomm received a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce to sell 4G mobile phone chips to Huawei on Friday. In August, the Trump administration delivered what some called a “lethal blow” to Huawei by banning any company, not just American companies, from selling the Chinese tech giant items developed or produced with U.S. technology and software without getting a license. Considering that U.S. companies dominate chip manufacturing and chip design software, the move essentially aimed to cut off Huawei’s access to chips.
Nonetheless, in recent months, the Trump administration has reportedly started allowed a growing number of companies to sell components to Huawei, per the Financial Times, as long as these are not used for its 5G business. Besides Qualcomm, the list includes Samsung (OLED displays) and Intel (processors for its cloud computing business). It also purportedly includes Sony (smartphone camera chips), the Times reported.
Qualcomm told Reuters that it had received a license to sell Huawei various products. The company revealed that it also had other license applications pending with the U.S. government.
“We received a license for a number of products, which includes some 4G products,” a company spokesperson told Gizmodo via email.
The spokesperson did not confirm to Gizmodo whether it had received a license to sell 4G mobile chips and did not comment further.
Reuter reported that the company declined to comment on the specific 4G products it had received authorization to sell, but said that they were related to mobile devices. Huawei was a significant customer for Qualcomm until last year, when the Trump administration added it to a government blacklist, known as the Entity List, which banned exports to the Chinese company without a license.
Qualcomm said that this caused Huawei to focus more on its domestic market and on selling devices that didn’t feature Qualcomm chips, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Huawei’s mobile division has been one of the company’s hardest hit by U.S. sanctions. In August, Richard Yu, president of the company’s consumer unit, said Huawei had “no chips and no supply” for smartphone production. U.S. sanctions have also prevented Huawei from manufacturing its own high-end chips, or Kirin chips, which it designs in-house.
The recent license approvals by the Trump administration, which is currently obsessed with imaginary voter fraud, could signal a shift in luck for the company’s smartphone arm. Huawei’s consumer business makes up more than half of its revenue, per the Times.
The U.S. government has long argued that Huawei is a threat to the country’s national security because its products could be used to spy on Americans at the behest of the Chinese government, but it has never provided any proof. (That sounds familiar). Huawei has denied that its products could be used for spying.
Update 11/15/2020, 11:03 p.m. ET: This post has been updated with additional comment from Qualcomm.