German minister calls for strong EU actors in 5G rollout

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Comments may indicate a hardening of the German stance on Huawei.

Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economy minister, was asked this week whether sidelining China’s Huawei on the 5G mobile network expansion could lead to a competitive disadvantage.

He is not against Huawei, he replied, however strong European actors were needed in the 5G segment. He also said that the EU supports free competition but must be vigilant when its security interests are affected.

The exchange came after a video conference of European Union competition ministers on Friday.

Related: Huawei is heading towards bankruptcy, desperate for a way out

Did the US cause a change of heart regarding China?

Altmaier wasn’t always so cautious about Huawei. He and his ex-boss, Angela Merkel, seemed positively disposed towards Huawei’s 5G offering just one year ago.

In 2019, Altmaier became combative when asked about the US stance against Huawei, and whether Chinese companies should be banned from providing equipment for Germany’s 5G telecoms network. In his reply, he described the United States as “unreliable and untrustworthy,” and seemed to favor keeping Germany’s 5G options open.

Now, it seems, Germany may be leaning towards following Washington’s lead.

Related: To stop China’s world domination, Huawei has to die

Huawei’s troubled history with the EU

Chinese telecoms companies have faced bans and heightened scrutiny in recent months. Countries fear that China could use their overseas deals to spy on foreign citizens.

In January, the EU published a series of 5G recommendations for its 27 member states. The document said states could “restrict or exclude” 5G vendors they deemed to be “high risk”. The designation high risk was an obvious reference to Huawei.

Some European nations have already acted to limit or block Huawei’s involvement in their 5G network.

In July, the United Kingdom banned mobile providers from using Huawei equipment in their new 5G networks. France imposed heavy restrictions on the use of Huawei gear.

Sweden has banned Huawei and Chinese rival ZTE from its own 5G network. China has told Sweden to reverse the ban on Chinese firms in its 5G network. The Chinese have warned the Swedes of “negative impacts” if they did not do so.

Tip: Should Europe compete for technological world domination?