Germany’s economy minister has defended the government’s decision to snub calls from the United States to ban Huawei from its 5G networks over espionage concerns – with a jab at Washington’s own espionage efforts.
“At that time in the NSA affair, we have imposed no boycott either,” Peter Altmaier said in a televised interview on Sunday.
“The US also demands from its companies that they pass on certain info that is needed to fight terrorism,” he added.
The German government announced last month, defying concerns and threats from the United States, that it would allow Huawei to take part in the national 5G build-out as long as the company complies with security guidelines.
The US has been lobbying its allies to block Huawei, the world’s biggest manufacturer of telecoms equipment, saying the company is planting backdoor access into its gear and is able to spy on other countries on behalf of the Chinese government.
Huawei denies concealing backdoors in its equipment and maintains that it is independent from Beijing. The Shenzhen-based tech giant has repeatedly said it is willing to strike ‘no-spy’ agreements with foreign governments.
The Trump administration still barred Huawei from the American market this May, albeit granting three 90-day reprieves to Huawei since then.
Germany, for its part, did not crack down on US companies when it emerged that the National Security Administration (NSA) spied on its European allies. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had disclosed classified intelligence documents showing that the US agency had placed Germany under surveillance and tapped the mobile phones of chancellors Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schroder.
Following Snowden’s disclosures, German lawmakers set up a parliamentary committee in March 2014 to conduct a preliminary investigation into the espionage accusations. During the investigation, reports emerged that Germany’s very own foreign intelligence agency, the BND, had cooperated with the NSA and spied on Germany’s allies as well. In 2017, following an inconclusive final report by the Bundestag committee, German officials closed the investigation and refused to seek further criminal proceedings, citing a lack of evidence.