Mike Pence praises Poland's actions on Huawei as US pressure mounts

US Vice President Mike Pence (left) and Polish President Andrzej Duda at a joint news conference at Belvedere Palace in Warsaw, Poland on Feb 13, 2019.
US Vice President Mike Pence (left) and Polish President Andrzej Duda at a joint news conference at Belvedere Palace in Warsaw, Poland on Feb 13, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

WARSAW (REUTERS) - US Vice-President Mike Pence praised Poland on Wednesday (Feb 13) for its commitment to "protecting the telecoms sector from China", as part of a concerted push by the United States to convince its allies to exclude tech giant Huawei from telecoms projects.

Fuelled by concerns that Huawei products could be used by China for espionage, Mr Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have stressed the dangers of collaborating with the Chinese firm during appearances in Poland and central European neighbours this week.

Huawei has repeatedly denied that its products could be used for espionage.

"We must continue to work so that all investment review mechanisms protect critical security and economic infrastructure going forward," Mr Pence said during a joint press conference in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying hit back at Mr Pompeo's remarks on Wednesday, saying the US was using its state power to suppress Chinese companies' legitimate development rights and interests, according to a report by Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

In January, Poland arrested a Chinese employee of Huawei and a former Polish security official on spying allegations.

Poland's government is also considering excluding Huawei equipment from its future 5G network, sources told Reuters.

"The recent action your government has taken against a Huawei executive and a Polish national accused of cooperating with him demonstrate your government's commitment to ensure our telecommunications sector is not compromised in a way that threatens our national security," Mr Pence said.

The comments came as Poland seeks to convince the US to increase its military presence in the country.

The number of US troops in Poland is capped at 4,500 but fluctuates, as formations rotate.

Poland, alarmed by Russia's assertiveness on Nato's eastern flank, has lobbied hard for the stationing of Nato troops on its soil, especially since Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Mr Duda told US President Donald Trump on a trip to Washington in September that he would be willing to commit more than US$2 billion to help facilitate the building of a permanent US base on Polish soil.

IN THE RACE

Austria's technology ministry and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel both said on Wednesday that an EU-wide agreement was needed on whether Huawei should be allowed to participate in building 5G networks in the bloc.

 
 
 
 

The European Commission is considering a de facto ban on Huawei's 5G network equipment due to security concerns.

But some European countries have been reluctant to follow US demands straight away, and Huawei is determined to stay in the race for lucrative infrastructure projects.

The company is ready to face any extra security measures required to compete to develop next-generation 5G networks in central and eastern Europe, Mr Andy Purdy, chief security officer at Huawei Technologies USA told Reuters on Wednesday.

"The US government is very persistent, very determined and very forceful in communicating the messages about Huawei," he said in an interview.

He also said that Huawei is ready to work with the Polish government on additional steps to build trust.

The company has not seen a slowdown in its business in Poland as yet, the company's senior standards manager in Europe said on Wednesday.

"We don't see slowdown in sales on Huawei equipment here... but if the situation continues, at some point, it will impact our business as well," Mr Georg Mayer told a news conference in Warsaw.

Mr Purdy said Huawei would play the long game in Poland.

"If the government decides to ban us from 5G, we will continue to take a long view of the potential sales of our products in Poland over time... We believe that some day in the future, we'll be allowed to compete for that business if we're not allowed to compete for it now," he added.