Huawei’s Participation in the German 5G Rollout not a Done Deal Amid the Addition of a “Test of Trustworthiness”

Nov 5
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In a move that resembles one step forward, two steps back, the German foreign minister Heiko Maas has muddied the waters when it comes to the participation of the Chinese telecommunication equipment maker, Huawei Technologies, in Germany’s rollout of next-gen 5G wireless network.

According to multiple news reports, Maas asserted that Germany was now looking to add a ‘test of trustworthiness’ to the 5G security catalogue that had previously focused only on a technical evaluation. The German minister further elaborated that the purported test will take into account whether a company is compelled by national laws to relinquish control over sensitive information, adding: “That’s the case with Huawei.”

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These comments by the foreign minister constitute the clearest signal to-date that Berlin might adopt a tougher stance when it comes to Huawei’s involvement in the 5G rollout and that the company may be excluded from sensitive segments of the next-gen network.

European capitals are currently embroiled in a heated debate over the extent of Huawei’s involvement in the ongoing upgrade of wireless networks throughout the EU bloc. The debate has also unveiled deep-seated fears of the Chinese government inevitable gaining influence over vital telecommunication and information infrastructure. Nonetheless, hawks have dismissed the latest qualifier imposed by Germany on Huawei’s participation in the 5G rollout, pointing to a clause that allows telecommunication equipment manufacturers to self-certify their “trustworthiness” which, in turn, nullifies the raison d'être for the entire exercise.

The German intelligence community has also raised objections over Huawei’s involvement in the country’s wireless infrastructure. While addressing a parliamentary committee in late October, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service Bruno Kahl said: “Infrastructure is not a suitable area for a group that cannot be trusted fully.” Huawei, he added, could potentially play some role in the 5G buildout, but should be kept away from all areas that touched on “core interests” of Germany.

According to Thorsten Benner, the director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, “It was always clear that German intelligence was very skeptical about Huawei but the fact that he [Kahl] went on the record and said explicitly that Huawei cannot be trusted is very relevant.”

Of course, the antagonism of the U.S. towards Huawei’s participation in the project has not helped the Asian tech giant in the matter (read our related coverage here). The U.S. government has repeatedly urged its European allies to ban Huawei-sourced components in their 5G networks, arguing that Beijing could use the Chinese group’s technology to conduct espionage or cyber sabotage. Earlier this year, the U.S. ambassador to Germany went so far as to pen a letter in which he asserted that Washington could consider scaling back intelligence co-operation with Berlin if Huawei were to be given a role in the 5G rollout.

Huawei, for its part, has dismissed warnings from the U.S. and has insisted that it has no connections with the Chinese government. Earlier this month, the company even praised the German approach to 5G regulation, saying it created a “level playing field for 5G network vendors”.

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