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Technology EU ignores U.S. calls to ban Huawei as it announces new cybersecurity recommendations

A surveillance camera is seen in front of Huawei's factory campus in Dongguan, Guangdong province, China, on March 25, 2019.

Tyrone Siu/Reuters

The European Commission announced a series of new cybersecurity recommendations for next-generation mobile networks on Tuesday, measures that fall short of U.S. calls for a complete ban on Chinese tech supplier Huawei.

The commission urged European Union states to assess cyber threats in their own national markets and to share the information as part of a co-ordinated effort to develop a “tool box of mitigating measures” by the end of the year.

The EU proposals are a setback for the United States, which has been lobbying allies to shun Huawei over fears its equipment could be used by China’s communist leaders to carry out cyberespionage.

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The EU’s digital commissioner, Andrus Ansip, acknowledged those concerns, saying they stem from Beijing’s 2017 intelligence law that compels Chinese companies to assist in intelligence gathering.

“I think we have to be worried about this,” Ansip said at a press briefing in Strasbourg.

However, commission officials signalled they prefer to secure Europe’s critical digital infrastructure with a more nuanced approach, rather than bowing to U.S. pressure for blanket bans.

Huawei said in a statement it welcomed the commission’s “objective and proportionate” recommendations.

Privately owned Huawei has consistently denied such allegations, and its founder has said the company would never hand over sensitive information.

For Canada, an ally of both the U.S. and E.U., the review of 5G policies became more politically charged after the RCMP arrested Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei executive and daughter of the founder, at the request of the United States.

Although Meng’s arrest was due to alleged fraud that’s related to an alleged contravention of U.S. sanctions on Iran, which the company has denied, China’s government has since taken several steps seen as retribution against Canada.

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For its part, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in February that the United States might scale back certain operations in Europe and elsewhere if countries continue to do business with Huawei.

New 5G networks – still in early stages of deployment – promise superfast download speeds with little signal delay. Those advances are expected to stimulate innovations such as autonomous cars, remote medicine and factory robots.

Huawei, a private company based in Shenzhen, China, is the world’s biggest maker of certain types of telecom infrastructure equipment such as radio base stations and network switches.

It competes with European rivals Nokia and Ericsson and, to a lesser extend, Samsung of South Korea.

Under the EU plan, countries would have the right to ban companies for national security reasons and could also agree on EU-wide measures to identify products or suppliers considered potentially unsecure, the commission said.

Security Commissioner Julian King said EU countries should identify and manage security risks, including by ensuring a diverse range of equipment makers and factoring in “legal and policy frameworks governing third-country suppliers.”

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The issue has taken on more urgency as EU countries prepare to auction off 5G frequencies to telecom operators. The U.S. warned Germany, which began its auction earlier this month, that allowing untrustworthy companies to supply equipment could jeopardize the sharing of sensitive information.

With files from The Canadian Press

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