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Huawei gets slight reprieve on US trade ban

The US Commerce Department issues a temporary license to let Huawei keep existing networks and issue updates. The company's founder downplays its significance.

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The license created by the US Commerce Department lasts until mid-August.

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A day after Google cut off Huawei from using Android on its phones, the US Commerce Department scaled back its restrictions on Huawei's access to American components and software that go into its devices.

The department on Monday created a temporary general license that will allow the China-based phone maker to keep existing networks and issue updates to existing phones, tablets and other devices. The license, which lasts until Aug. 19, is intended to provide time for companies to sort out how to deal with export restrictions and for the Commerce Department to assess the steps it needs to take in the longer term.

"In short, this license will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

On Tuesday Google said it will continue to work with Huawei while that license is in effect. 

"Keeping phones up to date and secure is in everyone's best interests and this temporary license allows us to continue to provide software updates and security patches to existing models for the next 90 days," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. It's unclear what Google will do after the license expires.

News of the Commerce Department action was earlier reported by Reuters.

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Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that effectively banned Huawei in the US, including its ability to source goods and services from American companies. The order limits the involvement of foreign "adversaries" in the nation's carrier networks. That includes Huawei's telecommunications equipment, which US carriers don't use following a previous ban, and the sale of Huawei phones like the P30 Pro through US carriers. (You can still buy some Huawei devices from Amazon and B&H Photo.) The Commerce Department also added Huawei to its trade blacklist.

Company founder Ren Zhengfei on Tuesday told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV that the reprieve wouldn't make much of an impact on its plans, Reuters reported, and Huawei's beef was with the government rather than US companies.

"The US government's actions at the moment underestimate our capabilities," Ren said.

Also on Tuesday, Huawei's representative to the European Union described the company as a "victim of bullying" by the US government.

Huawei didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters reported Friday that the Commerce Department was considering the temporary license to give companies and owners of Huawei products time to keep using communications networks and equipment.

On Monday morning, before the government's softening stance, Huawei said in a statement that it would "continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products, covering those that have been sold and that are still in stock globally," according to a company spokeswoman.

CNET's Richard Nieva contributed to this report.

First published May 20.
Update May 21 at 3:21 a.m. PT: Adds comments by Ren Zhengfei and Huawei's EU representative, and by Wilbur Ross; and 11:57 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Google.