Nancy Pelosi has warned European countries they will “choose autocracy over democracy” if they let Huawei take part in rolling out 5G technology, in a sign of the bipartisan US political pressure over the Chinese company.
Ms Pelosi, the Democratic House of Representatives’ speaker, urged an audience of top politicians, military officers and spies in Munich to work with Washington on an “internationalisation of digital infrastructure” that did not enable authoritarianism.
Her remarks on the opening day of the annual security conference in the German city on Friday highlight the push in Washington for European states to reject Chinese technology in sensitive communications systems.
“Allowing the Sinification of 5G would be to choose autocracy over democracy,” she said. “We must instead move towards . . . an internationalisation of digital infrastructure that does not enable autocracy.”
Ms Pelosi said it would be the “most insidious form of aggression” if 5G communications were to come under the control of an “anti-democratic government”. The danger was “so predictable that I do not know why it is not self evident”, she added.
Her remarks come as many European countries including Germany face decisions on whether to restrict Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks, which security experts say are particularly sensitive because of potential uses ranging from domestic appliances to city transport systems. The price-competitive technology of Huawei — which denies it is a security threat — has already been embraced in some European states such as Hungary and others are expected to auction 5G mobile spectrum.
Ms Pelosi gave no details of how she thought the US and European countries should provide an alternative to Chinese 5G technology. She also did not explicitly endorse the suggestion last week by William Barr, US attorney-general, that the US buy controlling stakes in Nokia of Finland and Sweden’s Ericsson to help build a stronger 5G competitor to Huawei.
The UK’s decision last month to allow Huawei into its 5G network has increased tensions between London and President Donald Trump’s administration. Before the decision, White House representatives warned it would be “nothing short of madness” to include the Chinese company in telecoms infrastructure, and that intelligence-sharing would be at risk if Britain went ahead.
While the US was careful in its public remarks following Downing Street’s decision, the Financial Times has reported that Donald Trump vented “apoplectic” fury at UK prime minister Boris Johnson in a phone call after the 5G announcement.
Speaking in the margins of the Munich conference Robert Blair, White House security adviser on telecommunications policy, made clear he wanted Mr Johnson’s government to take a “hard look” at its decision.
Washington officials have been particularly concerned that London’s green light for Huawei will persuade other allies to follow suit.
This week Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, the lead party in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition, backed a strategy paper that could curb Huawei’s involvement in Germany’s 5G rollout but notably stopped short of the US policy of banning the Chinese technology outright.