US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell has reportedly warned the German government that Washington might limit intelligence sharing with Berlin if the latter allows Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co. to build its next generation 5G mobile network. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Grenell had sent Economy Minister Peter Altmaier a threatening letter on 8 March.
According to the German business daily Handelsblatt, the minister’s spokesman confirmed that they had received the letter, but did not reveal any details of its content, saying it would be studied and replied to. The US Embassy has refused to comment, but its spokesperson pointed out that the existence of an "unreliable provider" of the US ally's 5G network would raise questions about the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive information there, as well as between the country and its allies. According to the embassy representative, this could endanger rapid coordination, especially in times of crisis.
Huawei “Resistance” in Europe
Up to now, Germany has rebuffed any US attempts to sway it into barring Huawei from participating in the development of its next-generation networks, as Washington and some of its allies did earlier over the company’s alleged ties to Chinese intelligence and suspected involvement in commercial espionage. Berlin has refused to freeze out Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies, as the country’s Economy Minister Altmaier announced that the government would not want to exclude any company from the upcoming auction of fifth-generation mobile licenses.
However, Germany’s Federal Network Agency published tougher security guidelines for telecom providers, which require suppliers of 5G networks to be "trustworthy". The guidelines also stipulate that networks should use components from several manufacturers; the agency said that these rules would apply to all vendors equally, not singling out Huawei Technologies. In addition, Germany would also tighten the laws regulating communication, according to Handelsblatt, but there would be no "Lex Huawei" deliberately excluding the Chinese company.
Espionage Accusations Against the Chinese Giant
Washington claims that Huawei — the world's biggest telecoms equipment supplier — has been stealing commercial information and spying on behalf of the Chinese government. The company vehemently denies the allegations, saying that it sees no reason why it should be restricted from building 5G infrastructure in any country. Thus, Huawei recently filed a lawsuit against the US government, claiming that a US ban on federal agencies purchasing its equipment was unconstitutional.
The US, New Zealand, and Australia have already banned Huawei from developing their 5G networks, citing security threats. The US has also been lobbying its European allies to follow suit and impose formal bans on Huawei products when it comes to building the next generation of wireless mobile networks; however, another member of the “Five Eyes” alliance, the UK, earlier refused to bar any companies from bidding.
A top Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, was detained in Vancouver at the behest of the US, reportedly on suspicions of conspiring to violate US sanctions against Iran. The arrest, which occurred amid the ongoing China-US trade row, was denounced by both Huawei and Beijing; China’s authorities have demanded that Canada immediately release the Chinese national. Meanwhile, Huawei has insisted that Wanzhou has done nothing illegal.
Threat Letter “Recidivist”
At the same time, it is not the first time that the US ambassador to Germany has resorted to intervening with a personal letter. In January, he reportedly sent similar “warning” letters to German companies, threatening them with sanctions for their involvement in the Russian-European Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. The US has criticised the venture, saying that Moscow would use it as political leverage over Europe, instead promoting importing LNG to cover the continent’s gas demands. Russia, as well as Germany, views it as a purely economic issue.