Attorney General William Barr says the United States and its allies should consider the highly unusual step of taking a "controlling stake" in Finland's Nokia and Sweden's Ericsson to counter China-based Huawei's dominance in next-generation 5G wireless technology.
In a remarkable statement underscoring how far the US may be willing to go to counter Huawei, Barr disclosed in a speech that there had been proposals to meet the concerns "by the United States aligning itself with Nokia and/or Ericsson."
Barr said the alignment could take place "through American ownership of a controlling stake, either directly or through a consortium of private American and allied companies."
"Putting our large market and financial muscle behind one or both of these firms would make it a far more formidable competitor and eliminate concerns over its staying power, or their staying power," Barr said.
"We and our closest allies certainly need to be actively considering this approach," he added.
Both firms have a combined market capitalisation of about $US50 billion and it is not clear what source of funds the US government could potentially tap to take stakes in the firms or if foreign regulators would approve.
Ericsson declined to comment, while Nokia did not immediately comment.
Last month, a group of six US senators introduced legislation to provide over $US1 billion to invest in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE and accelerate development of an open-architecture to allow for alternative vendors to enter the market for specific network components.
Barr said China had emerged as the "top geo-political adversary" and added: "China has stolen a march and is now leading in 5G ... They have already captured 40 per cent of the market and are now aggressively pursuing the balance."
US government investments in public companies are rare except in the case of bailouts to save ailing firms and jobs, and such investments in foreign companies are even rarer.
US officials have criticised Huawei for its close ties to the Chinese government and they added the company to an economic blacklist last year, saying it was involved in activities contrary to US national security.
The Trump administration has pressed nations not to grant Huawei access to 5G networks and alleged Huawei's equipment could be used by Beijing for spying, which the Chinese company has repeatedly denied.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last year barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by companies posing a national security risk.
Australian Associated Press