Senior EU official urges more countries to ban China’s Huawei, ZTE from 5G networks

  • Thierry Breton, EU commissioner for the internal market, has called on more member states to remove “high-risk” providers such as Huawei and ZTE from their 5G networks, citing risks to national security.
  • To date, only 10 EU countries have restricted or banned Huawei from their 5G networks, Breton said.
  • China later said it strongly opposes a ban on Huawei by some EU countries and that the European Commission has no legal basis to ban the company, according to Reuters.

Huawei has returned to the spotlight in Europe after a report suggested Germany may ban some of the Chinese telecom giant’s equipment in its 5G network.

Paul Barrena | AFP | Getty Images

A senior European Union official has called on more EU countries to ban Chinese telecoms firms Huawei and ZTE from their 5G networks, escalating tensions with Beijing.

Thierry Breton, Europe’s internal market commissioner, said he wanted more member states to remove “high-risk” providers like Huawei and ZTE from their mobile internet infrastructure upgrades, citing risks to national security.

In January 2020, the EU adopted a “5G cybersecurity toolbox” aimed at identifying risks arising from accepting certain 5G infrastructure providers in its rollout. This came as several countries, including the UK, were deciding to ban Huawei over security concerns.

“We will continue to work vigorously with member states that are lagging behind and with telecom operators,” Breton said in a speech on Thursday.

“I can only underline the importance of expediting decisions to replace high-risk providers from their 5G networks. I have also reminded affected telecom operators that it is time to get to grips with this issue.”

To date, only 10 EU countries have restricted or banned Huawei from their 5G networks, Breton said.

“For our part, the Commission will apply the principles of the 5G toolbox to its procurement of telecom services, to avoid exposure to Huawei and ZTE,” Breton said.

China later said it strongly opposes a ban of Huawei by some EU countries and that the Commission has no legal basis to ban the company, according to Reuters, which quoted a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry.

Breton’s comments follow news that Germany is considering banning Huawei and ZTE from its 5G network due to alleged national security risks. In response, the Chinese embassy in Germany said it was “perplexed and highly dissatisfied” with the reports.

Huawei and ZTE did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

The US and its allies, including the UK and Australia, have barred Huawei from operating their 5G networks.

Washington officials say Huawei and ZTE technology could be used by Beijing for espionage. Both companies and Beijing have denied the allegations.

The EU has previously described China as a “partner”, “economic competitor” and “systemic rival”.

However, more recently, it has leaned towards the “system rival” side, seeking to keep China close as a partner, while also remaining wary of its growing influence in developing critical technologies.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in a speech earlier this year that she thinks the bloc should reevaluate its ties with Beijing, although she said it was not in the EU’s interest to “separate ” from China. Instead, she said, she should try to “de-risk” her relationship with China.

Operators have struggled to replace Huawei as the infrastructure provider in their mobile networks. Industry executives say Huawei’s technology is often cheaper and more advanced than that offered by rivals such as Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung.

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