US warns Berlin over 'untrusted vendors'

The US and some Western states, fearful of the security risks posed by Chinese IT giant Huawei, have shut it out of 5G infrastructure tenders.
The US and some Western states, fearful of the security risks posed by Chinese IT giant Huawei, have shut it out of 5G infrastructure tenders.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN • The United States has warned Germany about future "information sharing" if it uses "untrusted vendors" in its 5G telecoms infrastructure, amid debate over whether Chinese IT giant Huawei is an espionage risk.

The Wall Street Journal reported that US Ambassador Richard Grenell sent a letter to German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier last Friday warning that in such a case, Washington could scale down intelligence and other information exchanges.

A US embassy spokesman told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday it would not comment on diplomatic communications, but added that its position on 5G network security was well known.

"To the extent there are untrusted vendors in the networks of an ally, that could raise future questions about the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive communications within that country, as well as between that country and its allies," the spokesman said.

"This could, in the future, jeopardise nimble cooperation and some sharing of information. We are engaging intensively with our allies on how to secure our telecommunications networks to ensure continued interoperability."

Mr Altmaier confirmed he had received the letter, but told AFP that he could not comment on its contents, adding: "We will respond quickly."

Germany, like other European Union countries, has relied heavily on US intelligence on terror and other threats provided by the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy services.


The US and several other Western nations, fearful of the security risks posed by the company closely tied to the Chinese government, have shut Huawei out of tenders for the development of the newest 5G infrastructure.

The Chinese telecoms behemoth has strenuously denied the espionage allegations.

Germany, anxious to not get sucked into the maelstrom of an ongoing US-China spat over a multitude of issues including trade, has taken a cautious stance on the issue.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said it was necessary to talk to Beijing "to make sure that the company does not simply give up all data that is used to the Chinese state, but that there are safeguards".

Some measures in the works include adding a non-spying clause, a requirement to publish code sources used in the infrastructure as well as allowing independent laboratories to carry out tests on the components used.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2019, with the headline 'US warns Berlin over 'untrusted vendors''. Subscribe