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Chinese phone-equipment makers Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp. are the focus of a U.S. House intelligence committee investigation into whether the companies’ expansion in the U.S. poses a security threat (pdf), reports Bloomberg.

The probe will focus on whether the companies’ presence provides “the Chinese government an opportunity for greater foreign espionage” and imperils the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure, Representatives Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Dutch Ruppersberger, the panel’s top Democrat, said in a news release yesterday.

“The Chinese are aggressively hacking into our nation’s networks, threatening our critical infrastructure and stealing secrets worth millions of dollars in intellectual property from American companies,” Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat, said in the release. “This jeopardizes our national security and hurts U.S. competitiveness in the world market.”

China on Friday urged the U.S. not to “politicize” trade issues after a key U.S. House of Representatives committee launched an investigation into Chinese-owned telecommunications companies operating in U.S. markets.

“China’s investment in the U.S. boosts U.S. employment and economic growth, and we hope the U.S. side will not politicize trade issues,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.

The investigation is part of increasing U.S. government scrutiny of economic espionage by China. U.S. intelligence officials called China the world’s biggest perpetrator of economic espionage in a Nov. 3 report that said the theft of sensitive data in cyberspace is accelerating. The most targeted industries include pharmaceuticals, information-technology, military equipment and advanced materials, according to the report by the U.S. National Counterintelligence Executive.

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