Mnuchin says US hasn't seen concerns about Alphabet's work for Chinese government

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told  CNBC on Wednesday that he and President Donald Trump aren’t aware of any questionable work between Google-parent Alphabet and the Chinese government.

“I don’t see any area — again the president and I did diligence on this issue — and we’re not aware of any areas where Google is working with the Chinese government in any way that raises concerns,” Mnuchin told CNBC’s “Squawk Box. “

“The only work that they’re doing is some very minimal open-source work,” he added. “They continue to do work with us in certain areas of [the Department of Defense] and I think Google is an American company that wants to help out the U.S.”

Mnuchin said he and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are heading to Shanghai for a two-day meeting starting Tuesday in an attempt to end the trade war.

“I would say there are a lot of issues,” Mnuchin said. “My expectations is this will be followed up with a meeting back in D.C. after this and hopefully we’ll continue to progress.”

Mnuchin’s comments came a day after sources confirmed to CNBC that American trade negotiators will soon head to China for face-to-face discussions as they work to strike a trade deal with Beijing. The trade talks have thrown into the spotlight the relationships some of the globe’s largest technology companies have with both the U.S. and international governments around the world.

Many see Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei as a key sticking point in resolving the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies. Hu Xijin, a Chinese official tabloid editor followed by Wall Street for insight, said in a Twitter post Tuesday that if the U.S. doesn’t lift sanctions on Huawei, a deal won’t be reached.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks to Capitol Hill reporters January 15, 2019.

Yuri Gripas | Reuters

U.S. officials including Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow hosted a meeting at the White House on Monday with some American tech giants to discuss the U.S. ban on Huawei. The United States placed Huawei on the Commerce Department’s so-called Entity List in May, banning the sale of certain technologies to the company without special licenses.

But the U.S. government’s relationships with the nation’s largest tech companies have also come under scrutiny as the Department of Justice launches antitrust probes into Amazon, Facebook and others. Asked about cooperation between big tech and the federal government, Mnuchin noted that many already help the Department of Defense.

“I want to be careful because a lot of companies cooperate with the Defense Department. Some of our most important, critical technologies companies and as I just mentioned, in my conversations with Google — and we researched this — there’re areas they are cooperating,” Mnuchin added.

“Having said that, private businesses do have the right to make decisions. They’re owned by shareholders, they have boards that control them, but I do think it’s important,” he added. “Almost all the leading technology companies in the U.S. do cooperate with the government in very significant ways.”

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