US officials are set to descend on Barcelona this weekend ahead of Monday’s opening of the Mobile World Congress, where Chinese telecoms giant Huawei will look to substantiate its presence in the 5G European market despite rising global security concerns over its operation.
“We’re now seeing the American pressure on the EU increasing,” a Huawei spokesperson told EURACTIV. “But the EU should be free to make up its own mind.”
The world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment has come under fierce criticism from the US, due to allegations of a backdoor within the company to the Chinese government that enables state-sponsored espionage. Huawei denies the allegations.
The US will be sending a delegation of senior officials to the Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile fair, including Chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
For its part, Huawei will send a range of representatives from the highest levels of the company, including rotating Chairmen Ken Hu and Guo Ping.
On the agenda for this year’s session includes issues ranging from spectrum auctions, artificial intelligence and ethics, and 5G security, an issue that has dogged the progress of Huawei across global markets.
Recently, US officials have been touring the continent in the hope of encouraging EU member states to ditch Huawei.
Reuters reported earlier this month that a US official had warned EU member states that “going with an untrusted supplier like Huawei or ZTE will have all sorts of ramifications for your national security and … since we are military allies with almost all members of the European Union, on our national security as well.”
In the EU, concerns about Huawei have been mounting.
The Italian government seemed to be momentarily divided as to its stance, when, at the beginning of February, the ministry of economic development refuted claims made by the Italian ministries of defence and foreign affairs that the country is set to ban Huawei and ZTE from taking part in the implementation of Italy’s 5G infrastructure.
The German government is considering excluding Huawei from its 5G market and in Poland, the Chinese firm was hit with espionage allegations after a Huawei employee, Weijing W, otherwise known as ‘Stanislaw Wang’, was arrested in the country.
Following the arrest, it was reported that Poland may consider a ban of Huawei products as a result of the allegations, with the Polish secretary of state at the ministry of digital affairs, Karol Okonski, telling EURACTIV that a “potential ban is still open.”
However, rifts between the US and EU positions are starting to tell. Last week, the London-based mobile trade body, GSMA, warned regulators against any trigger-happy measures that would “delay 5G deployment by years across Europe” and “jeopardise the functioning of existing 4G networks upon which 5G is intended to be built.”
Moreover, the chief of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), told a Brussels audience on Wednesday that there had yet to be any evidence provided by Washington to the UK on the allegations surrounding Huawei.
The UK’s membership of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group makes any prospective decision on Huawei critical to the rest of Europe, and will be seen as a marker for how other EU states are likely to respond.
Their positions will no doubt be coloured by this weekend’s Mobile World Congress, and both US and Chinese representatives will do their best to make their case.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]