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China tech

Pompeo sounds alarm on Huawei's Eastern Europe stronghold

Secretary says presence of Chinese equipment is obstacle to partnership with US

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Budapest Ferenc Liszt Airport in Budapest, Hungary, on Feb. 11. (Photo courtesy of U.S. State Department) 

NEW YORK -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Hungarian leaders on Monday of the security risks associated with using Huawei Technologies equipment, which he said could complicate the Eastern European country's partnerships with the U.S.

Pompeo spoke to reporters in Budapest, the first stop on his European tour and where Huawei has a strong presence.

"If that equipment is co-located in places where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them," he said at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. "We want to make sure we identify ... opportunities and the risks associated with using that equipment. And then they'll get to make their decisions."

Pompeo raised the concerns in a meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto and told reporters he would do so with Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Pompeo is expected to carry the same message to Slovakia and Poland before rounding up the trip with stops in Brussels and Reykjavik, Iceland.

The warning forms part of a larger effort by the Trump administration to dissuade other countries from doing business with the Chinese giant -- which it deems a security threat -- especially where 5G wireless technology is concerned.

"What's imperative is that we share with them the things we know about the risks that Huawei's presence in their networks presents: actual risks to their own people, to the loss of privacy protections for their own people, the risk that China will use this data in a way that is not the best interest of Hungary," he said.

Hungary's Szijjarto pushed back in a joint news conference that day, saying the European Union's Central and Eastern European members account for less than 10% of EU-China trade and are often unfairly accused of letting China gain ground in the area.

"If you look at that Chinese company, which is very often in the news nowadays regarding telecommunication, are they present in Hungary? Yes," he said. "Who are their major contractors? A German and a British company. ... So when it comes to China, I think hypocrisy should be left finally behind."

Ahead of Pompeo's trip, a senior administration official told reporters that the U.S. was more concerned about Huawei's presence in Central and Eastern European countries than in Western Europe, with the former important to Chinese strategic plans and including many small and midsize states that often have "a higher propensity to corruption."

Pompeo's visit marks an attempt to strengthen ties with a region relatively neglected in recent years by U.S. diplomacy. "I think for a long time we shunned them in a way that drove them to fill a vacuum with folks who didn't share our values, right?" he said. "The Russians and the Chinese ended up getting more influence here. They do not remotely share the American ideals that we care so deeply about."

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