EU Member States Divided Over European Commission’s Labeling of Huawei and ZTE as High-Risk Vendors

In the afternoon of June 15, the European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, declared Huawei and ZTE as high-risk vendors during a press conference. Breton recommended that EU Member States avoid using 5G equipment from these companies.

Reacting to this, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin firmly opposed the decision during a regular press conference, stating, “The European Commission keeps alleging that Chinese telecom firms such as Huawei and ZTE pose a security risk, but has yet to demonstrate any evidence.” He emphasized that Huawei and ZTE have contributed significantly to the European telecom sector’s growth and generated substantial socioeconomic benefits over the years.

In a formal statement, Huawei strongly opposed the EU’s stance. “This is clearly not based on a verified, transparent, objective, and technical assessment of 5G networks,” the statement said. Huawei further warned that discriminatory restrictions could pose serious economic and social risks and distort the EU market.

The company argued that the ‘High-Risk Vendor’ designation goes against free trade principles and should not be applied without a justified procedure and adequate hearing. It assured that cybersecurity is its top priority and invited customers and independent third-party testing organizations to perform fair and objective security tests at its Cyber Security Transparency Centre in Brussels.

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Regarding Breton’s proposal, different voices exist within the EU member states. In Germany, Deutsche Telekom, one of the major telecommunication companies, rejected the security concerns raised by the EU about Huawei. A spokesperson for Deutsche Telekom clarified, “The systems for network management are completely separated from the internet and Deutsche Telekom’s office communication networks in their own high-security network. Remote access for manufacturers is not possible.” They further assured that all software components undergo extensive security tests before being deployed and that additional security measures like active monitoring of the concerned systems are in place. They highlighted that there had never been any security problems with Huawei’s equipment.

In Austria, Klaus M. Steinmaurer, the Managing Director of the Austrian Regulatory Authority for Broadcasting and Telecommunications (RTR), stated that he does not perceive Chinese telecommunications companies as a security threat. He said in an interview with APA, “I don’t see any reason for this (naming them as high-risk vendors).”

These mixed reactions illustrate the controversial nature of the European Commission’s decision to categorize Huawei and ZTE as high-risk vendors. This issue has the potential to impact not only the future of 5G development in Europe but also EU’s trade and political relations with China.