Pompeo warns US allies over dealings with Huawei

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) being greeted by Slovakia's President Andrej Kiska in Bratislava yesterday, during his week-long tour across central Europe.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) being greeted by Slovakia's President Andrej Kiska in Bratislava yesterday, during his week-long tour across central Europe. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BUDAPEST • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has cautioned allies against deploying equipment from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei on their soil, saying it would make it more difficult for Washington to "partner alongside them".

The United States and its Western allies believe Huawei Technologies' apparatus could be used for espionage, and see its expansion into central Europe as a way to gain a foothold in the European Union.

Washington is concerned in particular about the expansion of Huawei, the world's biggest maker of telecoms equipment, in Hungary and Poland.

"We want to make sure we identify (to) them the opportunities and the risks of using that equipment," Mr Pompeo told reporters on Monday during a visit to Budapest.

Hungary is the first stop in a trip by Mr Pompeo to central Europe that will also take in Slovakia and Poland and is part of what US administration officials say is an effort to make up for a lack of American engagement in the region that opened the door to more Chinese and Russian influence.

Huawei denies engaging in intelligence work for any government. It says its technologies serve 70 per cent of Hungarians and that it cooperates with most telecoms providers in Hungary, including state-owned enterprises.

"We have seen this all around the world. It also makes it more difficult for America to be present," Mr Pompeo told reporters, referring to Huawei equipment.

"If that equipment is co-located where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them," he warned.

Mr Pompeo announced plans for a defence cooperation agreement with Hungary, one of the European governments that is most enthusiastic about Chinese investment. But he said he had discussed "the dangers of allowing China to gain a bridgehead in Hungary" in talks with Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

Budapest's nationalist government hopes to buy mid-range air defence capabilities from the US.

In Poland, the government is considering banning Huawei from participating in the development of 5G capabilities after arresting a Chinese employee of Huawei and a former Polish security official on spying allegations last month. Both men have denied wrongdoing.

Mr Pompeo is also expected to urge Hungary not to support the TurkStream pipeline, part of the Kremlin's plans to bypass Ukraine, the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe.

Hungary gets most of its gas from Russia and its main domestic source of electricity is the Paks nuclear power plant where Russia's Rosatom is involved in a €12.5 billion (S$19.2 billion) expansion.

However, Mr Szijjarto has brushed off US concerns over Russia and China, saying Budapest was fulfilling its obligations to Western allies as a member of the Nato military alliance.

"When it comes to cooperation with Russia or cooperation with the People's Republic of China, that does not harm us being reliable as a Nato ally," he told a joint news conference with his US counterpart.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline Pompeo warns US allies over dealings with Huawei. Subscribe