The EU appears to be following Washington’s lead to bar Chinese telecommunication companies from bidding for the development of 5G networks for security reasons.
The White House is considering an executive order that would bar US companies from using telecommunications equipment made by China’s Huawei and ZTE, citing concerns about their deep ties to the Chinese secret intelligence services and their ability to spy on US citizens through the products that they sell.
Various unconfirmed media reports from Brussels have indicated that the European Union could move in the same direction ahead of the development of 5G networks in Spain, Italy, Finland, Germany, Belgium, and Austria, all of whom have expressed concerns that hackers in both China and Russia could use the new technology for espionage purposes.
Singalling a sea change in European companies’ attitudes towards the two Chinese mobile giants, French telecom provider Orange said it would not be using Huawei equipment for its 5G network and Deutsche Telecom from Germany warned that it was looking into the various security concerns that the German security services have about Chinese vendors. Berlin’s concerns have also been echoed by the Czech government, who have also issued stark warnings against using equipment designed by either Huawei or ZTE.
The UK was one of the first nations to sound the alarm about the potential danger of using products made by Chinese companies that are known to openly cooperate with China’s spy agencies. Britain belongs to a group of five English-speaking nations – along with the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, known as “the Five Eyes” – that maintain strictly aligned security protocols and have enhanced intelligence-sharing cooperation.
Resistance to a total ban has, however, emerged from Deutsche Telecom-owned T-Mobile network in Poland, which already contracted the development of its 5G network to a Chinese firm. Moreover, Germany’s telecom regulator – the Federal Office for Information Security – has expressed scepticism about calls for an all-encompassing ban on Chinese equipment, despite warnings from German intelligence that the main security concern revolves around having to rely on one technology that requires overdependence on a single provider with sole access to personal data.
The standoff between Chinese communication companies and the West started in December, with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of the telecoms group’s founder in Canada, after the company violated the US’ sanctions against Iran, a key strategic and economic ally of the Chinese Communist Party.
Telecommunication experts project that by 2020 there will be 30 times more mobile Internet traffic as a decade before. The 5G network will be the backbone of a one trillion euro EU digital market, which has already seen Brussels invest €700 million into the Horizon 2020 Program to support research and innovation in 5G technology.
China has always been expected to emerge as a major player in the development of 5G technology in Europe, allowing EU companies to also gain access to the Chinese market, the biggest 5G technology market in the world.