ATHENS -- Greece is considering excluding Huawei equipment from its fifth-generation wireless broadband networks after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the country and sealed stronger ties.
Pompeo visited Greece on Sept. 28 and 29. During his stay, the biggest diplomatic objective for Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was clear: A reaffirmation by the U.S. of its commitment and support to Greece, in the midst of Greek-Turkish tensions increasing in the eastern Mediterranean sea. The two countries are at loggerheads regarding the development of a natural gas field discovered around Cyprus.
"We look to Greece as a true pillar of stability and prosperity at the eastern Mediterranean and are incredibly proud to support its leadership," Pompeo said on Sept. 28, during his meeting with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, in the northern port city of Thessaloniki. He added that "security cooperation is especially important as Russia continues to destabilize the region."
A day after, while visiting the U.S. naval base at Souda Bay, on Crete, the U.S. secretary of state announced that the base would become the home of a new expeditionary sea base ship, the USS Hershel "Woody" Williams. Mitsotakis affirmed that Greece-U.S. relations have never been as close and productive as they are today. With the huge ship based near the disputed area, the U.S. intention to defuse tensions in the region is clear.
But the top American diplomat had something else on the agenda: China.
China is increasing its involvement in Greece, especially in relation to 5G networks and services. The next-generation networks are turning into a signature issue in how the U.S. competes with China, ushering in what seems to be a new Cold War.
Initially, China was investing in infrastructure in the debt-strapped Hellenic republic. But Pompeo's visit demonstrated that the tide is changing.
With all its diplomatic efforts focused on its troubles in the region, the Greek conservative government didn't want to upset its traditional ally, the U.S. And yet Greece has consistently built a strong and stable relationship with China in recent years, striving for a delicate balance between the two powers.
The latest timeline seems to tell the story. On Sept. 20, the U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Ross Pyatt wrote an opinion piece to a local newspaper Kathimerini, titled "An investment in Greece's high-tech future." The article said: "Greek government reforms and the inclusion of Greece in the Clean Network will protect and uphold our common fundamental values and are a sound investment in Greece's high-tech future."
On Sept. 23, a "digital governance bill" was approved by a large majority in the Greek parliament. In his address to the plenary session, Kyriakos Pierrakakis, Minister of Digital Governance, announced that the auction of the 5G broadband frequency spectrum was to take place by the end of September. That is well within the projected time frame before the end of the year.
On the same day, while addressing via a video called "Prague 5G Security Conference 2020," Pompeo stated that "the U.S. is committed to collaborating with like-minded countries to deny malign actors such as the Chinese Communist Party access to our nations' sensitive data."
To participate in the auction of the frequency spectrum, companies must submit their applications by Oct. 23. Telecommunications providers are expected to be the applicants.
In the first quarter of 2021, Greek mobile service providers Cosmote and Vodafone are expected to start commercial operation of their 5G networks, while within the first half of next year, it is estimated that Wind will have made a similar move. The coverage by 5G networks is expected to reach 60% of Greek territory in the first three years and 94% in six years, according to Pierrakakis.
The largest Greek mobile service provider, Cosmote, selected Ericsson, a Swedish telecommunications company, in March to be its exclusive 5G equipment supplier. However, market experts say that Huawei equipment is about 30% cheaper than that of its competitors.
The development of 5G networks is evolving into a complex geopolitical issue -- security on one hand, economy on the other. European companies are worried about competitiveness in the market, but cybersecurity is also crucial for ensuring the EU's core interests.