Portugal will not exclude Chinese companies from supplying technology for the country’s next-generation 5G wireless network, senior Portuguese officials told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday.
Portugal is the latest European Union country to resist US efforts to persuade allies they should shun Huawei’s bids to provide the hardware that operators will use for the new ultra-fast 5G networks.
The Chinese government “will not hesitate” to use Huawei as a back door to sensitive data, Pompeo warned at a news conference with Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva.
He said each country has to make its own decision about such issues.
“But we have tried for these past couple of years to make clear to our friends all around the world of the attendant risks,” Pompeo said.
Santos Silva said bids from 5G operators would be assessed in the light of strict Portuguese and EU regulations. Market-leading wireless carrier Altice Portugal partnered last year with Huawei to develop 5G technology as it prepares to launch service in 2020.
European countries have been caught in the middle of a geopolitical battle over 5G networks, as Washington lobbies its allies to avoid Huawei because of suspicions the company could be used by Beijing for cyberespionage – allegations the company has denied.
Other EU countries, including key markets Germany and Britain, have also resisted Washington’s entreaties to block Huawei, though they have yet to make a final decision. Hungary announced last month that Huawei would take part in the construction of its 5G wireless network.
Those decisions have contributed to at times strained relations between Washington and the EU, though there are signs that Europe is starting to take the US concerns more seriously.
The Dutch government said on Thursday in its plans to auction 5G frequencies that wireless companies could ban equipment suppliers with connections to foreign governments or intelligence agencies involved in spying.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinted at a tougher stance Wednesday, saying he did not want to compromise security and intelligence cooperation in any decision on 5G suppliers.
The EU Council adopted 5G conclusions this week stressing that cybersecurity should consider “non-technical factors including the legal and policy framework” suppliers may face in third countries, an apparent reference to communist-ruled China.
Robert Strayer, a cybersecurity official with the US State Department, said he was pleased with the council’s position because it was in line with what Washington has lobbied other governments to adopt: “a set of principles to protect the whole of the network from untrusted vendors.”
Santos Silva said that all foreign investment was welcome.
Portugal is one of the EU’s, and Nato’s, smaller members and keen to attract investors. Chinese companies already own significant assets in the energy, banking and insurance sectors in Portugal.
Portugal has challenged critics of its China policy to compete with Beijing on Portuguese investments.
Santos Silva noted that a public tender is to open soon for a container terminal at the country’s biggest Atlantic deep water port, in Sines. China is expected to make a strong bid, but Santos Silva said he hoped US companies would also compete.
Pompeo also met privately with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
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