Calls for Huawei boycott get mixed response in Europe

PARIS • Europe is giving US-led calls for a boycott of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd 5G telecoms equipment a mixed reception, with some governments untroubled by spy suspicions against the Chinese giant, but others backing a ban.

In the latest setback for the company, Huawei said on Saturday it had fired an employee in Poland, who was arrested there a day earlier, on suspicion of spying for China. “His alleged actions have no relation to the company”, Huawei said in a statement to AFP.

Huawei had already seen the arrest of the daughter of the firm’s founder in Canada and US efforts to blacklist the company internationally over security concerns.

Several Asian and Pacific countries have followed Washington’s call for a Huawei ban, but the picture in Europe is more nuanced, not least because Huawei’s 5G capabilities are so attractive. They are well ahead of Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia Corp and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, analysts said.

5G technology represents a quantum leap in wireless communication speed, and will be key to developing the Internet of Things, including self-driving cars. That is why Europe wants to deploy it as quickly as possible.

“Operators have looked at alternatives, but have realised that Huawei is currently more innovative and probably better for 5G,” said Dexter Thil-lien, an analyst at Fitch Solutions.

Huawei has faced increasing scrutiny over its alleged links to Chinese intelligence services, prompting not just the US, but also Australia and Japan, to block it from building their 5G Internet networks.

But in Europe, Portugal’s main operator MEO signed a deal with Huawei in December during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, praising the Chinese company’s “know how, competence, talent and capacity to develop technology and invest in our country”.

By contrast Norway, whose current networks are for the most part made up of Huawei equipment, is thinking of ways to reduce its “vulnerability”, according to the Nordic country’s transport and communications minister quoted in the local press — especially towards countries with whom Oslo “has no security cooperation”, an implicit reference to China.

Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, meanwhile, said he had “grave, very deep concerns about Huawei providing the 5G network in Britain”.

Germany is under pressure from Washington to follow suit, news magazine Der Spiegel reported. But the country’s IT watchdog said it had seen no evidence Huawei could use its equipment to spy for Beijing.

Meanwhile, telecom operators across Europe, under heavy pressure to roll out 5G quickly, seem to be playing down security fears because using Huawei makes business sense to them.

The stakes are high: Europe is a crucial market for Huawei, whose combined sales for Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounted for 27% of overall group sales in 2017, mostly thanks to spending by European operators. — AFP