PARIS (AFP) - France on Thursday (Feb 13) said Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei would not be excluded from supplying equipment for 5G networks in the country, but could be subject to restrictions and Paris may prioritise European operators.
"There is no discrimination towards Huawei... No, Huawei will not be excluded from the 5G in France," Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told BFM TV.
But he added that "the French state will take precautions to protect out sovereign interests", especially close to nuclear and military installations.
And also "it is understandable that we could prioritise a European operator" such as Nokia or Ericsson, he added.
5G stands for fifth generation, the latest generation of cellular mobile communications that offers vastly higher speeds and could unlock a variety of new applications.
There has been intense debate in Europe about whether or not to exclude Huawei from developing 5G mobile networks. Critics, led by Washington, say Huawei is too close to Beijing and its equipment could be used as a tool for spying - a contention the company strongly rejects.
US President Donald Trump has already ordered American firms to cease doing business with market leader Huawei, and has urged allies to follow suit.
"Everyone can put in a bid to equip French territory with 5G, but we will put in place a certain number of limits to protect our sovereignty," said Mr Le Maire.
Asked if France could give preferential treatment to European telecoms networks firms Nokia of Finland and Ericsson of Sweden, Mr Le Maire replied: "We have two European operators who supply 5G and supply quality equipment.
"It is normal if we look first if they can provide the solution. And I think our Chinese partners can understand that."
He insisted: "Huawei will be not be discriminated against. If Huawei has a better offer from a technical point of view or price, it can have access to 5G in France."
"But if there are critical installations - military or nuclear - in the proximity, we will impose some restrictions to protect our sovereignty," he explained.
Mr Le Maire's comments came as the Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump administration believes Huawei can covertly access mobile networks around the world through "back doors" designed for use by law enforcement. It cited US officials as saying the company has had this "secret capability" for more than a decade.
However, Huawei vehemently denied the report, saying in a statement that it "has never and will never covertly access telecom networks, nor do we have the capability to do so".