A think-tank paper confirming the risks of Chinese spying through Huawei components built into Western 5G systems is increasing resistance in Berlin to allowing the Chinese company, the world leader in the sector, to supply the German network.
The working notes by the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics), an independent think-tank based in Berlin, says there is no reason to think the West can cooperate with China in a trustworthy manner when it comes to critical infrastructure.
The institute concludes Huawei components include technical "backdoors" for maintenance that could also be used for spying. And it affirms that Chinese law would compel Huawei to give intelligence services access to the data.
Given the general legal and political environment in China and the leadership’s selective disrespect for international law, there is no way Beijing could be considered a reliable partner, Merics concludes. The West is portrayed as a systemic rival and a political opponent in Chinese media.
The paper has been sent on a confidential basis to decision-makers in the government and parliament, urging them to be alert to the risks. However, the institute rejects the idea of a complete ban on Huawei's participation, urging “extreme caution” with regard to all suppliers since 5G is susceptible to state interference.
The paper has surfaced just as the US, which has been urging allies to ban Huawei altogether, is backing off its blanket condemnation, perhaps in order to use Huawei as a bargaining chip in its trade talks with China. President Donald Trump recently tweeted he wanted the US to compete on merit, not by banning more advanced technologies.
This new stance is at odds with the recent declarations by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the US would not be able to partner with any country that used Huawei components because of security concerns.
In Germany, partly because of the Merics paper, opinion is now moving against Trump’s benign stance. Security experts in the coalition parties are discussing ways of making the security criteria for suppliers to the 5G network so strict that Huawei would be kept out, even though there would not be an outright ban.
Huawei has denied the existence of backdoors in its technology and rejected the idea it was legally obliged to provide data to intelligence services. The Merics experts say these claims simply are not true.
Moritz Koch is a Berlin correspondent for Handelsblatt. Darrell Delamaide adapted this article into English for Handelsblatt Today. To contact the author: [email protected]