German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday Berlin would consult Washington over using technology made by China’s Huawei in future mobile phone networks, following reports of US threats to reduce intelligence cooperation.
“We will define our standards for ourselves,” Merkel told reporters at a Berlin press conference with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
However, “we will of course discuss these questions with our partners in Europe as well as the relevant authorities in the United States,” she added.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that US ambassador Richard Grenell had warned that Washington could scale back intelligence and other information exchanges with Berlin if Huawei technology was built into Germany’s 5G telecoms infrastructure.
While the embassy would not confirm the report, a spokesman told AFP that “untrusted vendors in the networks of an ally… could raise future questions about the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive communications.”
The US and several other Western nations, fearful of the security risks posed by the company closely tied to the Chinese government, have shut Huawei out of tenders for the development of the newest 5G infrastructure.
The Chinese telecoms behemoth has strenuously denied allegations its equipment could be used for espionage.
Also Tuesday, Huawei’s western Europe chief Vincent Pang reacted to Grenell’s warning, telling German business daily Handelsblatt that “a country should not use its political power to harm a commercial enterprise. The US is going too far.”
Huawei has in recent months met with over 200 politicians to try and smooth over security fears, he added.
In the past, Merkel has said she would talk with Beijing to secure “safeguards” against indirect spying via Huawei — looking to avoid taking sides as the US and China row over a multitude of issues including trade.
Some measures in the works include adding a non-spying clause, a requirement to publish source code used in the infrastructure as well as allowing independent laboratories to carry out tests on the components used.
Huawei has quietly become a leading supplier of the backbone equipment for mobile networks, particularly in developing markets thanks to cheaper prices.
But Huawei’s 5G equipment is reputed to much further advanced than those of rivals Ericsson and Nokia, which has made it attractive for mobile operators looking to quickly roll out new networks.
The 5G network is meant to be 100 times more rapid than 4G, and is viewed as the next major step in the digital revolution that makes data transfers almost instantaneous.
Germany, although it is Europe’s leading economy, has seen its mobile infrastructure lag behind, with most Germans having access only to 3G.