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5G networks

Germany pledges 5G talks with US over Huawei threat

Merkel asserts independence but offers nod on warning of intelligence break

A Huawei booth is pictured at the sponsors' area during the Christian Democratic Union party congress in Hamburg, Germany, December 2018.   © Reuters

BERLIN -- Germany will discuss standards for fifth-generation mobile networks with the U.S., Chancellor Angela Merkel says, after Washington threatened to stop sharing critical intelligence if Berlin allowed China's Huawei Technologies to help build the European country's 5G infrastructure.

"We will create our own standards independently," Merkel told reporters Tuesday, but she added that Germany would "consult with the U.S." as well as other European nations. Security represents an "extremely serious concern" in the development of the advanced communication technology, the chancellor said.

Her words came in reaction to a pressure campaign by Washington to have its allies shut out the Chinese telecommunications equipment giant and before Berlin opens bidding for 5G network spectrum on March 19.

Three German companies including Deutsche Telekom, as well as the U.K.'s Vodafone, have been admitted to the bidding. Germany aims to have 5G reach 98% of households by the end of 2022.

On March 7, Germany's Federal Network Agency, or Bundesnetzagentur, outlined additional security requirements for networks including 5G. They stipulated that network operators source equipment only from "trustworthy suppliers" that provide for "secrecy of telecommunications and for data protection." Moreover, critical components need certification by authorities and will be subject to "regular and ongoing security tests."

But the rules refrain from specifically excluding Huawei, instead leaving it to communications providers and regulatory bodies to decide whether to use equipment from the Chinese company, which has amassed European market share with its low-cost devices.

A Deutsche Telekom spokesperson said in December that the company "takes the global discussion about the security of network elements from Chinese manufacturers very seriously."

There are "justified doubts about whether a company that is close to the Chinese government can credibly achieve" Berlin's security standards, Peter Beyer, a member of Merkel's government who coordinates German-U.S. relations, said in a statement Tuesday according to Reuters.

Germany will set its 5G standards independently, while also talking with the U.S. regarding security issues related to the technology, Chancellor Angela Merkel says.   © Reuters

On Friday, the day after the new guidelines were issued, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell wrote to Peter Altmaier, the German minister for economic affairs, warning that Washington could not sustain its present level of intelligence sharing if Huawei were allowed to help build German 5G infrastructure.

Security concerns involving Chinese companies are building in the U.S. An American defense spending bill passed last summer bans U.S. government agencies from sourcing products from Huawei and four other Chinese enterprises beginning in August 2019. The legislation also bars agencies from doing business with companies that use the Chinese enterprises' products as of August 2020.

The U.S. appears to be using the threat of withholding valuable intelligence to tighten the net around Huawei. Australia, which also has an intelligence-sharing relationship with Washington, closed Huawei out of its 5G efforts last August after a request from the U.S.

A Huawei official in charge of Western European operations told German media that Washington had gone too far, saying national governments should not use political influence to harm businesses.

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